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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] This chapter contains—(i.) The search for and discovery of the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 6:1-5). (ii.) The decree of Darius for the furtherance of the building of the Temple (Ezra 6:6-12). (iii.) The carrying on and completion of the building of the Temple (Ezra 6:13-15). (iv.) The dedication of the Temple (Ezra 6:16-18). (v.) The celebration of the feasts of the Passover and of Unleavened Bread (Ezra 6:19-22).
Ezra 6:1. Then Darius the king made a decree] “These words seem to refer only to the command to make an investigation; but in reality they serve as an introduction to the decree which was promulgated to Tatnai, &c. (comp. Ezra 5:6). It is as if the subsequent narrative: and search was made] were taken up merely as an explanation of the decree following in Ezra 6:6 sq.”—Schultz. The house of the rolls] Margin: “Chald. books.” Schultz: “writings.” (Comp. chap. Ezra 5:17.) Laid up] Margin: “Chald. made to descend.” The apartment was probably underground.
Ezra 6:2. Achmetha] i.e., Ecbatana. “The name ’Achmetha, which at first sight seems somewhat remote from Ecbatana, wants but one letter of Hagmatana, which was the native appellation.… Two cities of the name of Ecbatana seem to have existed in ancient times, one the capital of Northern Media; the other the metropolis of the larger and more important province known as Media Magna. The site of the former appears to be marked by the very curious ruins at Takht-i-Suleîman; while that of the latter is occupied by Hamadan, which is one, of the most important cities of modern Persia. There is generally some difficulty in determining, when Ecbatana is mentioned, whether the northern or the southern metropolis is intended. Few writers are aware of the existence of the two cities, and they lie sufficiently near to one another for geographical notices in most cases to suit either site. The northern city was the ‘seven-walled town’ described by Herodotus, and declared by him to have been the capital of Cyrus (Herod. i. 98, 99, 153; comp. Mos. Choren. ii. 84); and it was thus most probably there that the roll was found which proved to Darius that Cyrus had really made a decree allowing the Jews to rebuild their Temple.”—Bibl. Dict. A roll] “The ancient Persians used parchment for their records, as appears from Ctesias (cap. Diod. Sic. ii. 32)”—Rawlinson.
Ezra 6:3. In the first year of Cyrus the king] (Comp. chaps. Ezra 1:1; Ezra 5:13.) Omit “concerning” as supplied by the translators of the A. V. The house of God at Jerusalem] These words “stand alone by themselves, and constitute to a certain extent a title.” The place where they offered sacrifices] Keil: “As a place where sacrifices are offered.” Schultz: “As a place where offerings are brought.” And let the foundations thereof be strongly laid] Schultz: “ ‘And whose foundations are capable of supporting’ (namely, the structure).” The height thereof threescore cubits] &c. In these dimensions the length is not specified; probably because in this respect the new Temple was to correspond with the former one.
Ezra 6:4. With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber] The meaning of this is uncertain. One interpretation is that the word translated row (נִדְבָּךְ) should be rendered “storey;” and that it applies “to the three storeys of chambers that surrounded Solomon’s, and afterwards Herod’s Temple, and with this again we come to the wooden Talar which surmounted the Temple and formed a fourth storey.”—Bibl. Dict. But it is questionable whether נִדְבָּךְ ever signifies “storey.” Fuerst gives, as the meaning of the word, “a layer, a row,” as of stones or bricks in a wall. So also Keil. Schultz says it means “that three of the Temple walls were of hewn stone, the other, namely, the front, which must for the most part be composed of a large entrance, was to be made of wood.” In support of this view he argues from 1 Kings 6:36, “that Solomon provided the inner court (of his Temple) on three sides with walls of quarried stone, on the one other side, without doubt the front side, where the chief entrance was, where then there was probably a larger door, with an enclosure of hewn cedar.… In the Temple of Herod also, the entrance side of the holy place was still composed of one great folding door, sixteen cubits broad.” Another interpretation is that the walls were three rows or courses of stone in thickness with an inner wainscoting of wood. And another, taking נִדְבָּךְ as signifying row, or layer, is that the walls were built of three layers of large stones and then a layer of timber, repeated from the base to the summit. But there is a complete absence of evidence of the existence of buildings of this kind in the East in olden times. And let the expenses be given out of the king’s house] or from the royal revenues (Comp. Ezra 6:8.) This must either refer to the cost of only the materials of the building, or it was never carried into effect; for the Jews themselves contributed largely to the cost of the building (chaps. Ezra 2:68-69; Ezra 3:7).
Ezra 6:5. And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God] &c. (Comp. chaps. Ezra 1:7-8; Ezra 5:14-15.)
Ezra 6:6. Now therefore Tatnai] &c. This is the decree made by Darius the king (Ezra 6:1). Your companions the Apharsachites] (See on chap. Ezra 5:6.) Be ye far from thence] i.e. do not trouble or interfere with the Jews in this matter.
Ezra 6:10. That they may offer sacrifices] &c. This was the object aimed at by Darius the king in the preceding orders of his decree. “We find,” says Keil, “that in after times sacrifices were regularly offered for the king on appointed days: comp. 1Ma. 7:33; 1Ma. 12:11; 2Ma. 3:35; 2Ma. 13:23; Joseph. Antiq. XII. ii. 5, and elsewhere.”
Ezra 6:11. Alter this word] either by transgressing or by abolishing it. Let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon] Keil: “Let a beam be torn from his house, and let him be fastened hanging thereon.” Schultz: “Let him be fastened thereon and crucified.” It is almost beyond doubt that crucifixion is the punishment signified here. And let his house be made a dunghill for this] “that is, let it be torn down and changed into a common sewer, comp. 2 Kings 10:27; Daniel 2:5.”—Schultz.
Ezra 6:14. And Artaxerxes king of Persia] “This king did not reign till long after the completion of the Temple, and the insertion of his name here can only be accounted for by supposing that the compiler or editor of this record inscribed his name as one who, in later times, contributed to the maintenance of the Temple, and so kept up the work his predecessors had begun.”—Clemance. And Schultz points out that, instead of giving a simple narrative of the completion of the building, “the author would rather express recognition and thanks, and hence could forget none who were deserving of mention. Artaxerxes came into consideration only on account of the gifts which he caused to be brought to Jerusalem by Ezra” (chap. Ezra 7:15-20).
Ezra 6:15. The month Adar] which is the twelfth month, and corresponds with our March. The building was completed about twenty years after the laying of the foundation by Zerubbabel, and four years five months and a few days after the resumption of the work by reason of the prophesying of Haggai (Haggai 1:15).
Ezra 6:17. An hundred bullocks, two hundred rams] &c. These numbers, though small as compared with those offered at the dedication of the former Temple (1 Kings 8:5; 1 Kings 8:63), considering the number and the circumstances of the people, constitute a hearty and joyful offering. A sin offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats] &c. While the great majority of those who returned with Zerubbabel were of Judah, it is probable that some families of the other tribes returned with them, and that for that reason a sin offering was presented for every tribe. Moreover, as Keil observes, a sin offering was brought for all Israel, “because the Temple was intended for the entire covenant people, whose return to the Lord and to the land of their fathers, according to the predictions of the prophets, was hoped for. (Comp. e.g. Ezekiel 37:15, sq. Jeremiah 31:27, sq.)”
Ezra 6:18. They set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses] &c. (Comp. 1 Chronicles 23:6-23; 1 Chronicles 24:1-19; 2 Chronicles 35:5; 2 Chronicles 35:12.) As it is written in the book of Moses] (Comp. Numbers 3:6-10; Numbers 8:5-26.) With this verse the Chaldee section closes.
Ezra 6:19. Kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month. (Comp. Exodus 12:6.)
Ezra 6:20. For the priests and the Levites were purified] &c. Rawlinson says that this is a mistranslation, and that it should be, “For the priests had purified themselves, and the Levites were all pure as one man, and killed,” &c. He further suggests that this was the reason why the Levites killed the paschal lambs not only for themselves and for the people, but also for their brethren the priests (Comp. 2 Chronicles 29:34.) But, as Keil remarks, from the days of Josiah it seems to have been customary for the Levites to slaughter the passover lambs for the whole community, both priesthood and laity. (2 Chronicles 35:11; 2 Chronicles 35:14-15). Schultz translates, “For the priests and Levites had purified themselves as one man, they were all clean, and killed,” &c. He suggests that the latter slaughtered the lambs “for the priests, because they were so busy elsewhere.”
Ezra 6:21. And all such as had separated themselves] &c. “Those who separated themselves from these heathen are not proselytes from heathenism, but descendants of the Jews and Israelites who had remained in the land when the rest of the nation had been carried captive, as all the parallel passages show, comp. Ezra 9:1; Ezra 9:10, Ezra 10:2; Ezra 10:10-11; Nehemiah 9:2; Nehemiah 10:28. They had without doubt intermarried with the heathen, and the more they had entered into communion with them, the less were they in a position to observe the Mosaic laws respecting food and purification. To separate themselves from the impurities of the heathen meant for them to forsake altogether communion with the heathen, and seek communion with the Jewish congregation.”—Schultz.
Ezra 6:22. Kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days] (Comp. Exodus 12:15; Exodus 13:7, &c.) The king of Assyria] “Darius, the king of Persia, is here called king of Assyria, not only as ruler of the territory of the previous Persian empire (Keil), or because Assyria from ancient time had been the usual name for all that region (Clericus), which cannot be proved from Jdt. 2:1; but, above all, likewise, because Darius, as head of the great empire of the world, properly took the same relative position over against the people of God as the Assyrian and Chaldean kings had once had, because it was properly only a continuation or renewal of the same, and because the thought was now to be expressed, that finally that very enemy who had once so fearfully and destructively oppressed the people of God, had been changed by the grace of God into a friend, so that he had even himself strengthened the hands of the congregation in re-establishing the destroyed Temple.”—Ibid.
A THOROUGH SEARCH AND AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY
I. The search for the decree of Cyrus.
1. Was thorough. “Search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon,” as being the most likely place in which to find a copy of the alleged decree of Cyrus. The document, however, was not found there. But the search was not abandoned when it failed there, but was continued at Achmetha, or Ecbatana, as being the place where, next to Babylon, it would most probably be discovered. The thoroughness of this search seems to us an evidence of the desire of Darius the king to deal fairly and honourably with his Jewish subjects.
2. Was successful. “And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll,” &c. Thus the honest and earnest search was rewarded, the veracity of the statement of the elders of the Jews (chap. Ezra 5:13-15) was clearly proved, and the lawfulness of the authority by which they acted firmly established.
Honest and thorough investigation promotes the interests of religion and of the Church of God. Partial examination, and yet more, examination by persons whose opinions or feelings are prejudiced, often leads to conclusions which are inimical to the cause of God and of religious truth. But sincere, patient, thorough investigation into the credentials of Christianity is eminently desirable, and conduces to its progress. Merely human systems of religion may well shun the light; some of the doctrines of men concerning Christianity, upon examination, may prove untenable; and error may naturally seek to evade every real test; but truth, righteousness, and the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ court inquiry, and by inquiry they spread and prevail. (a).
II. The discovery of the decree of Cyrus. “And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written: In the first year of Cyrus,” &c. (Ezra 6:2-5). The edict thus brought to light contained three commands of the utmost importance to the Jews.
1. That their Temple should be rebuilt. “In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king made a decree:—The house of God at Jerusalem:—Let the house be built,” &c. It was to be built
(1) at the old place; “at Jerusalem.” This was important, because of the old and precious associations and memories which clustered thickly around it.
(2.) For the old purposes. “The house of God … a place where they may offer sacrifices.” It was for the worship of the same holy Being, and in the same manner, as their fathers had worshipped.
(3.) In solid and durable manner. “And let the foundations thereof be strongly laid,” so as to be thoroughly capable of supporting the superstructure, that the edifice may endure the longer.
2. That the expenses of building be granted them from the royal revenues. “And let the expenses be given out of the king’s house.” Either this command was intended to apply only to the materials of the building, or it was never fully carried out. It may be that they did not receive what was here ordered them, as Matthew Henry suggests, because the face of things at court was soon changed. But we know that, out of their own resources, the Jews contributed largely to the expenses of the building (chaps. Ezra 2:68-69; Ezra 3:7).
3. That the costly and sacred vessels of the former Temple should be restored. “And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God,” &c. (Ezra 6:5).
(1.) These vessels had been degraded to base uses by heathen kings. “Which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the Temple which was at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon.” “And he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god” (Daniel 1:2). Belshazzar, at his great and impious feast, “whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels,” &c. (Daniel 5:2-4).
(2.) They had been preserved from destruction or loss in the Providence of God. God had so ordered events that these vessels were regarded by the heathen Nebuchadnezzar as sacred, and were by him deposited in a secure place.
(3.) They were restored to their original place and use by a heathen king, who was moved thereto by the Spirit of God. Let them “be restored, and brought again unto the Temple which is at Jerusalem, to their place, and (thou) shalt place them in the house of God.” Seeing that God thus preserves even consecrated utensils, how much more will He keep His consecrated people! “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed,” &c. (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:13). “Fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine. When thou passest through the waters,” &c. (Isaiah 43:1-2).
The advantages of written history. The testimony of the Jewish elders concerning the edict of Cyrus might have been denied by some, and by others suspected of exaggeration in their own favour, and in this way the great work might have been again arrested; but this state-document, found in one of the royal offices or chambers, was unimpeachable. Tradition is variable and uncertain; but the record written at the time of the events is fixed and trustworthy. (b). How great should be our gratitude for the sacred writings—“the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever”! (c).
(a) The religion of Christ might be shown to abound in circumstances which contradict and repel the idea of a human origin. For example, its representations of the paternal character of God; its inculcation of a universal charity; the stress which it lays on inward purity; its substitution of a spiritual worship for the forms and ceremonies, which everywhere had usurped the name and extinguished the life of religion; its preference of humility, and the mild, unostentatious, passive virtues, to the dazzling qualities which had monopolised men’s admiration; its consistent and bright discoveries of immortality; its adaptation to the wants of man as a sinner; its adaptation to all the conditions, capacities, and sufferings of human nature; its pure, sublime, yet practical morality; its high and generous motives; and its fitness to form a character, which plainly prepares for a higher life than the present;—these are peculiarities of Christianity, which will strike us more and more in proportion as we understand distinctly the circumstances of the age and country in which this religion appeared, and for which no adequate human cause has been or can be assigned.
Passing over these topics, each of which might be enlarged into a discourse, I will make but one remark on this religion, which strikes my own mind very forcibly. Since its introduction, human nature has made great progress, and society experienced great changes; and in this advanced condition of the world, Christianity, instead of losing its application and importance, is found to be more and more congenial and adapted to man’s nature and wants. Men have outgrown the other institutions of that period when Christianity appeared, its philosophy, its modes of warfare, its policy, its public and private economy; but Christianity has never shrunk as intellect has opened, but has always kept in advance of men’s faculties, and unfolded nobler views in proportion as they have ascended. The highest powers and affections which our nature has developed find more than adequate objects in this religion. Christianity is indeed peculiarly fitted to the more improved stages of society, to the more delicate sensibilities of refined minds, and especially to that dissatisfaction with the present state, which always grows with the growth of our moral powers and affections. As men advance in civilisation, they become susceptible of mental sufferings, to which ruder ages are strangers; and these Christianity is fitted to assuage. Imagination and intellect become more restless; and Christianity brings them tranquillity, by the eternal and magnificent truths, the solemn and unbounded prospects, which it unfolds. This fitness of our religion to more advanced stages of society than that in which it was introduced, to wants of human nature not then developed, seems to me very striking. The religion bears the marks of having come from a Being who perfectly understood the human mind, and had power to provide for its progress. This feature of Christianity is of the nature of prophecy. It was an anticipation of future and distant ages; and when we consider among whom our religion sprung, where, but in God, can we find an explanation of this peculiarity?—W. E. Channing, D.D.
(b) In Books lies the soul of the whole Past Time; the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream. Mighty fleets and armies, harbours and arsenals, vast cities, high domed, many engined,—they are precious, great: but what do they become? Agamemnon, the many Agamemnons, Pericleses, and their Greece; all is gone now to some ruined fragments, dumb mournful wrecks and blocks: but the Books of Greece! There Greece, to every thinker, still very literally lives; can be called up again into life. No magic Rune is stranger than a Book. All that mankind has done, thought, gained, or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of Books. They are the chosen possession of men.—Thomas Carlyle.
(c) It is a blessed thought that the words of the Bible were written for us—that the Spirit of God looked along the ages, and saw that in such an event or circumstance of life we should need just such counsel and help. And then He inspired a pen to write it down. Not for our good only, but for thousands who have gone before and who will come after. No promise is there that has not been proved thousands of times—no warning, but many have taken it home. It is like a good chart which has everything on it that a mariner in any seas may need. Its truths never wear out. Says one, who has been a deep student of it: “The Bible will bear a thousand readings, and the man who has gone over it the most frequently and carefully is the surest of finding new wonders there.”—The Study.
What a wonderful Book is the Bible! Just let us look at it. There it lies—a Book several thousand years old—a Book at war with all the evil passions of a wicked world—a Book dwelling in an enemy’s country—a Book exposed to every species of assault—a Book that has been shot at by innumerable archers, and yet there it lies, unhurt, invulnerable, not a crevice to be found in its coat of mail, not the shadow of a genuine doubt upon its Divinity, not a speck upon its glorious robes! Well may we say as we gaze upon it, “Surely God is in this Book! how dreadful is this Book! it is none else than the Book of God; it is the gate of heaven!”—Anon.
THE DECREE OF DARIUS
In this royal edict we have:
I. A prohibition. “Now Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shethar-boznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence: let the work of this house of God alone.” All interference with the builders and the building of the Temple is here forbidden by the king. Tatnai and Shethar-boznai seem to have acted with conspicuous fairness toward the Jews; but it is probable that some of their former Samaritan enemies would have hindered them in their great work if they could have done so. Such hindrance this edict imperatively prohibits.
II. An injunction. The royal decree goes on to command Tatnai and his companions in office to help onward the work of the Jewish builders.
1. They were to allow the building of the Temple. “Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.”
2. They were to assist the building of the Temple. “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, of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.”
3. They were to assist the worship of the God of the Temple. “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 which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail.”
1. The sufficiency of this assistance. It provides for the daily and other burnt offerings, for the meat offerings, and for other things according to the expressed requirements of the Jewish priests.
2. The continuity of this assistance. “Let it be given them day by day.”
3. The urgency of the command of this assistance. “Let it be given them without fail; … let it be done with speed.” In this way unusual importance is given to this edict for helping forward the Temple and the worship of Jehovah. The object of the king in thus aiding their worship is noteworthy: “That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.” This is a remarkable utterance from a heathen monarch. It reveals—
(1.) His reverence towards God. Twice in this decree he speaks of Him as “the God of heaven;” and from his wish that sacrifices and prayers should be presented to Him, it is evident that he believed in His power to aid and bless men.
(2.) His faith in the efficacy of prayer to God. Darius knew that the Jews “were a praying people,” says Matthew Henry, “and had heard that God was nigh to them in all that which they called upon Him for. He was sensible he needed their prayers and might receive benefit by them, and was kind to them in order that he might have an interest in their prayers. It is the duty of God’s people to pray for those that are in authority over them, not only for the good and gentle, but also for the froward; but they are particularly bound in gratitude to pray for their protectors and benefactors; and it is the wisdom of princes to desire their prayers. Let not the greatest princes despise the prayers of the meanest saints; it is desirable to have them for us, and dreadful to have them against us.” (a).
III. A malediction. “Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word,” &c. (Ezra 6:11-12).
1. Severe penalties are denounced against any who should violate the decree.
(1.) The crucifixion of the offender. “Whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, let him be fastened thereon and crucified.”
(2.) The consignment of the memory of the offender to shame and loathing. “And let his house be made a dunghill for this.” Language such as this is not unfrequently employed by Orientals (2 Kings 10:27, Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29). “They imprecate all sorts of indignities and abominations on the objects of their dislike, and it is not uncommon for them to smear over with filth what is the object of their contempt and abhorrence. Thus when the Caliph Omar took Jerusalem, at the head of the Saracen army, after ravaging the greater part of the city, he caused dung to be spread over the site of the sanctuary, in token of the abhorrence of all Mussulmans, and of its being henceforth regarded as the refuse and offscouring of all things.”
2. A stern imprecation is uttered against any who should attempt to injure the Temple. “And the God that hath caused His name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter, to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem.” Where his own power was inadequate to protect the Jews and their Temple, he invokes the hand of God against those who would injure the sacred place.
1. See the force of example. Darius was moved by the example of Cyrus in thus showing favour to the Jews. In this case we have—
(1.) An example of excellent character. The conduct of Cyrus towards the Jews was good and noble. (b).
(2.) An example of posthumous power. Cyrus had been dead for several years, but the decree which he had made determined the conduct of Darius towards the Jews. Our influence for good or for evil does not cease with our life upon earth. (c).
(3.) An example nobly followed. The decree of Darius was even more noble and generous than that of Cyrus.
2. See the workings of Divine Providence. In this decree we see that—
(1.) God sometimes uses unlikely agents in accomplishing His purposes. Darius, king of Persia, was one of the most important agents in rebuilding the Temple at Jerusalem, &c.
(2.) God overrules the opposition of enemies for the accomplishment of His purposes. We are far from saying that Tatnai and Shethar-boznai were enemies to the Jews; but we know that the Samaritans were bitterly hostile to them; and now, as the result of the appeal to Darius, all his subjects west of the Euphrates are commanded to contribute to the Temple and to the worship of Jehovah. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee; the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” (d).
(a) A man who lives habitually near to God is like a great cloud for ever dropping with fertilising showers. This is the man who can say, “The earth is dissolved; I bear up the pillars thereof.” France had never seen so bloody a revolution had there been men of prayer to preserve her. England, amidst the commotions which make her rock to and fro, is held fast because prayer is put up incessantly by the faithful. The flag of old England is nailed to her mast, not by the hands of her sailors, but by the prayers of the people of God. These, as they intercede day and night, and as they go about their spiritual ministry, these are they for whom God spareth nations, for whom He permitteth the earth still to exist; and when their time is over, and they are taken away, the salt being taken from the earth, then shall the elements dissolve with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up; but not until He hath caught away the saints with Christ into the air, shall this world pass away.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) If the present lecturer has a right to consider himself a real Christian,—if he has been of any service to his fellow-creatures, and has attained to any usefulness in the Church of Christ, he owes it, in the way of means and instrumentality, to the sight of a companion, who slept in the same room with him, bending his knees in prayer on retiring to rest. That scene, so unostentatious, and yet so unconcealed, roused my slumbering conscience, and sent an arrow to my heart; for, though I had been religiously educated, I had restrained prayer, and cast off the fear of God. My conversion to God followed, and soon after my entrance upon college studies for the work of the ministry. Nearly half a century has rolled away since then, with all its multitudinous events; but that little chamber, that humble couch, that praying youth, are still present to my imagination, and will never be forgotten, even amidst the splendours of heaven, and through the ages of eternity.—J. A. James.
(c) The truth is, that no man or woman, however poor their circumstances or mean their lot, are without their influence; like an electric spark, passing from link to link, that runs flashing down the chain of successive generations. Indeed, a man’s life is as immortal as his soul; and by its influence, though dead, he yet speaketh and worketh.… Men live after they are dead. Outliving our memory, and more enduring than any monument of brass or marble, our example may prove like the circle that rises round the sinking stone, and growing wider and wider, embraces a larger and larger sphere, till it dies in gentle wavelets on the distant beach. It reaches a distant shore; your example a distant time. Take care, then, how you live.—Thomas Guthrie, D.D.
(d) All things are for the best, by virtue of no inherent power in evil to develop good, for evil must ever gravitate towards an increase of itself; but by virtue of an overruling Wisdom bringing good out of evil, and converting the evil itself into the instrument of good. This is true of natural laws. The storm destructive of life and property fills the atmosphere with the seeds of larger and freer life. Pestilence is the providential stimulus of sanitary progress. Difficulties and conflicts are the school of all the heroic virtues. Fortitude, self-control, heroic force of will, unselfish generosity, a rational love of liberty, and liberality tolerant of other men’s opinions, all grow out of this soil. They are not hot-house exotics, needing to be stimulated into artificial life, but vigorous evergreens, flourishing only in the free air of heaven, and striking their roots deep only in their native soil. The exercise of a Divine wisdom and power over-ordering evil for good is but the application of the same principle to the higher sphere of God’s moral government, but another and a louder strain of the same harmonious music. The past history of the world is one long illustration of this truth. The experience of the past becomes prophetic, and catching its language from the glowing pages of the inspired Scripture, sings its songs of triumphant hope for the future. Looking back to the past and forward to the future, faith recognises that all is best. From the height of the revealed promise peeping on tiptoe into the future, it catches a glimpse of a more glorious hereafter.—Canon Garbett.
A BELIEVER’S EXPENSES
“Let the expenses be given out of the king’s house.”
The times are hard. Expenses are very well when one is able to meet them easily, but they involve a thousand perplexities if the income is insufficient. The most expensive living possible is that of the believer. It is not difficult to satisfy the bare requirements of the body. There is more swallowed up by the requirements of a man’s position. But the human soul has the greatest needs. If we speak of its simple necessities, what a costly matter is the sustaining of its life! Think, however, of its expensive enjoyments, its superabounding luxuries! From whence do they all come? We are spiritually penniless. Are we not living far beyond our income? No. Heaven’s exchequer supplies bountifully all our requirements and enjoyments.
I. What are our expenses? The expenses referred to in the text are those connected with the return of the Jews to their own land, the rebuilding of the Temple, and its continual sacrifices.
1. Their release from captivity was doubtless an expensive blessing. Our release from the thraldom of sin involved enormous expenditure. Was paid “out of the King’s house.” Did not God give His Son? Did not the Son pay down His blood and His life? “Ye are not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” What a price!
2. Their return to Jerusalem. The liberated Jews in Babylon were probably impoverished by their captivity. Cyrus says, “Return to your own land, I will pay your expenses.” The important step of public profession of faith in Christ, and of union with His Church, need peculiar supplies of grace. It is promised to you “out of the King’s house.”
3. The material for a new Temple was provided by king Cyrus. There is much new material to be built up in our habits and life. Extensive alterations must be made. We require a new building, the material of which shall be faith, hope, love, humility, chastity, self-denial, &c. Can we obtain these from our own slender purse?
4. Wages for the workmen are part of these expenses. It was a long job—the Temple-building—and the workmen must not stand still. The Christian who makes no progress in the Divine life may account for it—his source of supplies has been neglected—“the King’s house.”
5. The restoration of the sacred vessels from Babylon (Ezra 6:5) meant expense. Our bodies being temples of the Holy Ghost, every physical power and every mental faculty should be “a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use.” But these, also, have been profaned and defiled in our captivity to sin. They must now be restored to their proper use, and purified.
6. The daily sacrifices were a further item in the expenditure (Ezra 6:9).
(1.) Our hearts are altars whereon should be offered the sacrifices of worship and praise.
(2.) Our life is an altar whereon should be offered our whole conduct, and our special effort for Christ.
II. Where shall we find means to meet these expenses? There is one great treasury of light—the sun—inexhaustible. “The King’s house” is an inexhaustible treasury of grace.
1. The word of His truth. Hidden mines of wealth. Rich doctrines, rich examples, rich promises, rich pledges. Our needs appeared big until we saw the supply here.
2. The throne of His grace, “Let us come boldly,” &c. (Hebrews 4:16). “Ask what ye will,” &c. “Whatsoever ye shall ask,” &c.
“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.”
3. The fellowship of His people. Experience tells us of the supplies to be found here.
4. The dispensation of His providence. God’s abundant, unasked mercies every day. Everything in nature is a storehouse of food; the clouds over our heads, the clods under our feet, the atmosphere which we breathe. Everything in Providence supplies food for the believer. “We know that all things work together for good,” &c.
5. The opposition of his foes. The Persian monarch was naturally Israel’s enemy, yet God arranges that He shall pay Israel’s expenses. Even the lions we may meet shall supply sweet honey for our nourishment and refreshment.
6. The work of His Son. This includes all others. “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” What is there wanted that is not to be found here? “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead.” “Full of grace and truth; and of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”
III. How shall we act in the presence of such abundance?
1. We need not be afraid of exhausting Heaven’s treasures. Here is grace abounding! We may be prodigals, for our Father has plenty.
2. We dare not be slow in availing ourselves of these supplies. Live up to your privileges, or you will suffer, and the bountiful King will be insulted.
3. We cannot help wondering at the goodness of the King. Was it not enough that He should liberate us from sin? He “crowns us with loving-kindness and tender mercies.”
4. We will not forget to express our gratitude to the King. As He is at all the expense, He shall have all the praise. Here I will begin the song, and when I arrive at the “King’s house” I shall in richer language
“The gratitude declare
That glows within my ravished heart.”
5. We must not be so selfish as to hide these glad tidings. “This day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace.”—R. S. Latimer.
THE DESIRE OF A SOVEREIGN AND THE DUTY OF SUBJECTS
I propose to consider the words before us in a twofold point of view—
I. As the desire of a heathen prince.
1. It was a just and reasonable desire, as the history will clearly show. The Jews, by the permission of Cyrus, had begun to rebuild their Temple, &c.
Now, consider the obligations which this benevolent monarch was conferring on the Jews, and then say whether the desire which he expressed was not just and reasonable. He had ordered that “whatever they had need of, young bullocks and rams and lambs,” &c. (Ezra 6:9). Was it not reasonable that he should expect these things to be applied to their distinct use, and that, when he was showing such a paternal regard for the welfare of their nation, he should be remembered by them in their devotions, and have an interest in their prayers? Surely this was the least return which they could render to him for his extreme kindness.
2. It was also a wise and politic desire. Religion and loyalty are inseparable. It cannot be that a man who truly fears God should fail essentially in honouring the king. On the other hand, a man who has no fear of God before his eyes, has no principle sufficiently strong to keep him faithful to his king, if he be drawn either by interest or inclination to oppose him. Hence, then, it was wise in Darius, though a heathen prince, to encourage piety amongst the Jews.
Nor was he less politic in desiring a remembrance in their prayers. Intercession will induce a habit of mind friendly to the person for whom it is offered, and, if offered in sincerity by a whole nation, would prove a bulwark around the throne, stronger than all the fleets and armies that could be raised for its defence.
II. As the duty of a Christian people.
1. In the service of our heavenly King, the “offering of sacrifices to Him of a sweet savour” may well be considered as comprehending our duty to Him; whether as sinners, who stand in need of His mercy, or as saints, who desire to glorify His name. The Jewish sacrifices were presented as an atonement for the sins of the people; and they prefigured that “Lamb of God, which in His eternal purpose was slain from the foundation of the world.” These we are not required to bring; because that adorable Saviour, in whom all the types and shadows of the Mosaic law were to be fulfilled, has come. “He loved us, and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” This sacrifice we must ever bring before the God of heaven and earth. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” “His is the only name whereby any man can be saved.”
But there are other sacrifices also, which, as saints, we are to offer, and which have a sweet savour before God. Our whole person, body, soul, and spirit, is to be presented to the Lord, as the Apostle tells us: “I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies,” &c. (Romans 12:1). And if only we come to God through Christ, there is not a service which we can render to Him which shall not come up with acceptance before Him, as a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour. Such are our alms (Hebrews 13:16); such our prayers (Psalms 107:22); such our very sighs (Psalms 51:17); such is our every service, of whatever kind (1 Peter 2:5).
And do not imagine that your attention to this duty is unimportant as it respects the welfare of the state. There is a far closer connection between national piety and national prosperity than men generally imagine. (Comp. chap. Ezra 7:23.)
To this must be added your duty to your earthly prince, to be instant in prayer to God on his behalf. This is your duty; for the Apostle says, “I exhort that, first of all, supplications, prayers,” &c. (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
It is your interest also; for the welfare of every individual in the nation is bound up in the welfare of the king.
Let us, from the example of this heathen prince, learn how to employ our influence. Let us use it for “the God of heaven;” let us employ it to protect the oppressed, to encourage piety, and to maintain the honour of God in the world.
Let us learn also how to improve the privileges we enjoy. Let us abound in praises to our heavenly Benefactor, in affectionate loyalty to our earthly king, and in every work, whereby God may be glorified, and the welfare of our fellow-creatures may be advanced.—C. Simeon, M.A.
THE COMPLETION OF THE TEMPLE
Let us consider—
I. The ready compliance of the Persian officers with the royal commands.
1. They carried out their commands faithfully. “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.”
2. They carried out their commands readily. “So they did speedily.” They exhibited neither reluctance nor delay in carrying out the directions which they had received from king Darius. We have in this another evidence of the freedom from prejudice, the impartiality, and the fairness which marked the conduct of Tatnai and Shethar-boznai towards the Jews.
II. The satisfactory progress and ultimate completion of the building of the Temple. “And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered,” &c. (Ezra 6:14-15). This successful issue of their important undertaking was accomplished by the co-operation in various ways of many persons and powers, through the good Providence of God. Let us glance at such of these as are here mentioned.
1. The grand Authority for the great work. “They builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel.” The builders prosecuted their work as “the servants of the God of heaven and earth” (chap. Ezra 5:11). They were summoned to their work and encouraged in it by the prophets of Jehovah, “in the name of the God of Israel” (chap. Ezra 5:1). They were working in obedience to His express command. And “there would have been no command of Cyrus and Darius without God’s command.”
2. The royal promoters of the great work. “And according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” Although Artaxerxes had nothing to do with the erection of the sacred edifice, he is mentioned by the historian because of the great favour he showed to the good cause many years afterwards. Each of these monarchs had rendered valuable assistance to the Jews in restoring and carrying on the worship of Jehovah.
(1.) They gave permission for the return of the exiles and for the rebuilding of the Temple (chaps. Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 6:1-12; Ezra 7:11-13).
(2.) They granted them protection in rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 6:7).
(3.) They bestowed upon them liberal assistance both for their work and for their worship (chaps. Ezra 1:4-11; Ezra 6:8-10; Ezra 7:14-23).
3. The worthy leaders of the great work. “And the elders of the Jews builded.” They were forward in taking up the work when summoned thereto by the prophet Haggai (chap. Ezra 5:2), and they continued steadfast and diligent in the prosecution thereof. By their example they encouraged the people in their duty.
4. The inspired inciters in the great work. “And they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.” When the people were disheartened and wearied through difficulties and hindrances, these holy messengers of Heaven encouraged and strengthened them “through the Divine word and in the power of the Divine Spirit.” With the assurances of success in their great work, and of the rich blessing of their God, they stimulated and invigorated the people in the prosecution of that work. (Comp. Haggai 2:0; Zechariah 4:6-10.)
5. The ultimate completion of the great work. “And they builded and finished it,” &c. It was completed at last. There had been difficulties in the way of the work, and opposition to it, and for some time lack of interest in it on the part of the Jews themselves; but by the several concurrent favourable influences, and especially by the blessing of God, the undertaking was at length brought to a successful issue. And the time of its completion is significant. “And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.” Says Schultz: “For a work of such importance the date is properly given.… It was now for the first the exactly right time. The Temple was ready just seventy years after its destruction, so that the prophecy of the seventy years was now fulfilled exactly thereby.”
The building of this Temple may be regarded as a figure of—
1. The building of the temple of God in individual Christians. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” &c. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith,” &c. (Jude 1:20-21). “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue,” &c. (2 Peter 1:5-7). And building thus, by the blessing of God, this edifice also shall be completed. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until” (Alford: “will perfect it up to”) “the day of Jesus Christ.” (a).
2. The building of the temple of God in the world. A great and glorious spiritual temple is being erected out of the ruins of fallen humanity. The work is frequently and sadly obstructed; the adversaries to it are many; the builders at times seem only half-hearted in their work; and the progress appears to be irregular and slow; but the edifice shall surely be brought to splendid completion. Opposition, however crafty and organised and powerful, can neither frustrate the purposes nor hinder the fulfilment of the promises of God. Here is the grand issue of the work of the builders of the spiritual temple: “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them,” &c. (Revelation 21:3-4). (b).
(a) The work of sanctification must go on until the saint can say, “I and my Father are one.” That is the sublime end of Christianity. It is not to multiply theological technicalities; it is not to build one church spire higher than another; it is not to furnish a grindstone on which pugnacious bigots may whet their little swords; it is to gather up a shattered and overthrown humanity, to reburnish the living stones on which the fire of an enemy has left traces of fury, to rebuild the fallen empire of manhood, until it shall be beautiful and holy as a palace built for God.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
It is the part of a good workman not to leave his work imperfect; a good physician will not forsake his patient when he has done but half his cure; the husbandman gives not over when he has sown but part of his ground; and he that does but half build a house is but half a carpenter. So he that enters into the way of Christianity, and stands still, is but half a Christian—the greatest part of his work is yet behind. It is not enough to begin well, but to continue in well-doing; it is not so much the entrance into, as the perseverance in goodness that is required. God left not the great work of the creation in the first or second day thereof, but in six days finished it to the glory of His name; not as then in the generation of His creatures, but now also in their regeneration; whom He loves, He loves to the end; and the good work He has begun in any, shall be perfected. Having, then, so fair a copy to write by, so good an example to live by, let us so run that we may obtain; so sail in the sea of this world that we may never give over till we arrive in the desired haven; so to begin as to be sure to make an end; that it may never be said to our great and just reproach, “This man began to build, but was not able to finish” (Luke 14:30).—Whittaker.
(b) Inasmuch as “all the building is growing in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21), and according to His order, it will, in the end, not only be a glorious temple of humanity, but marvellously adapted for the indwelling and manifestation of God. “I will dwell in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” I will fill them, and they shall represent My fulness. “The whole building,” the redeemed of every generation, growing more and more into unity with each other, and with Christ, and through Him, with all the hidden powers of the Godhead, is a work which is every way worthy of an Almighty Father. To what glory, to what beauty, will the kingdom grow? to what wisdom will its members attaint? what will be their powers? what their fellowships? what their individual freedom of action? what their service and end, as one empire in the Son, and in the Father?—John Pulsford.
Did you ever win a soul to Christ? Did you ever get a grip of the hand of spiritual gratitude? Did you ever see the tear starting from the eye when the convert said, “Bless you! I shall remember you in heaven, for you have brought me to Christ?” Ah, my dear friend, you will not be satisfied merely with this. This is a kind of food that makes men hungry. Oh, that you had a rich banquet of it, and yet wanted more still. The Church will be built. If you and I sit still, it will be built. This is a truth, though it is often turned to a mischievous end—the Church will be built, even without us. But, oh, we shall miss the satisfaction of helping in its building. Yes, it will grow; every stone will be put in its place, and the pinnacle will soar into its predestined place, but every stone from foundation to pinnacle, will seem to say to you, “Thou hadst nothing to do with this! Thou hadst no hand in this!” When Cyrus took one of his guests round his garden, the guest admired it greatly, and said he had much pleasure in it. “Ah,” said Cyrus, “but you have not so much pleasure in this garden as I have, for I planted every tree in it myself.” One reason why Christ has so much pleasure in His Church is because He did so much for it; and one reason why some saints will have a greater fulness of heaven than others to rejoice in will be because they did more for heaven than others. By God’s grace they were enabled to bring more souls there; and as they look upon the Church they may, without self-reliance, and ascribing it all to grace, remember what they were enabled to do in its building up.—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE SUBSERVIENCY OF A FAITHFUL MINISTRY TO THE ERECTION OF GOD’S SPIRITUAL TEMPLE
I. The building of the Temple through the instrumentality of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
1. Many difficulties obstructed the progress of the work. Scarcely was the foundation laid, before an attempt was made to impede the work through the hypocrisy of pretended friends. The Samaritans offered to co-operate with the Jews in raising the intended fabric; but their design was to frustrate, rather than promote, the completion of it. Many will profess to desire the same objects, and will offer to concur in prosecuting them to a certain point, who, if their offers were accepted, would only defeat the ends proposed. The Jews, however, determined to prosecute their work alone (chap. Ezra 4:1-3). That device having failed, they were assaulted by the hostility of open enemies. Complaints were made against them, and they were represented as plotting to gain their liberty and independence, &c. In this way the servants of God have been assailed in all ages: our Lord was calumniated as an enemy to Cæsar; and His apostles as “movers of sedition,” &c. This plan succeeded, the Jews yielded to despondency, and for the space of fifteen years suspended the work (chap. Ezra 4:23-24). A spirit of indolence and supineness soon prevailed among them, and would have operated to a total dereliction of the work, if God had not sent His prophets to rouse them from their lethargy.
2. Through the preaching of the prophets, however, these difficulties were overcome. The prophet Haggai justly reproved them for attending so carefully to their own accommodation, &c. (Haggai 1:2-5; Haggai 1:7). The prophet Zechariah also urged them to bear in mind how awfully their fathers had suffered for the neglect of God (Zechariah 1:1-6); and then, by a variety of images which he had seen in visions, encouraged them with assurances of success in their labours (Zechariah 1-4). Thus were the people stimulated to exertion. But no sooner did they resume their work, than their enemies renewed their application to the government to issue again their mandate to discontinue it (chap. Ezra 5:1-10). This effort, however, was overruled, as similar efforts have often been, for the furtherance of the work it was intended to destroy (comp. chap. Ezra 6:1-10 with Philippians 1:12); and in the short space of four years the edifice was completed (Ezra 6:15).
II. The subserviency of a faithful ministry to the erection of God’s spiritual temple. The Temple of old was a shadow of that spiritual temple which is erected for God in the hearts of men; “being built on the foundation of theapostles,” &c. (Ephesians 2:20-22). The erection of this—
1. Is connected with the same difficulties. Who that begins truly to surrender up his soul to God, does not find many impediments from pretended friends? They will profess to approve of religion, and will propose to go with us to a certain length, that so they may have the greater influence to keep us from “following the Lord fully,” and from serving Him with our whole hearts. If we are enabled to withstand their efforts, then we shall be assailed by open enemies. Not unfrequently will they become our greatest foes, who by their relation to us ought rather to become our firmest protectors. And too often do timidity and sloth induce us to relax our efforts, till, if God do not by some special act of providence or grace awaken us, we lose the time for working, and, like the foolish virgins, experience for ever the fatal effects of our remissness.
2. Is carried on and perfected by the same means. God has established an order of men on purpose to carry on this spiritual building in the world (Ephesians 4:11-13). The apostles may be called “master builders;” but every pastor and teacher is engaged in the same work, according to the office that has been assigned him. We call you, then, to “consider your ways;” consider what has hindered you hitherto, &c. Consider too the promises of God. What assurances of success are given, &c. “Up then, and be doing,” every one of you; and “your God will be with you.” Yield not to discouragements of any kind, &c. Seek “as living stones to be built up a spiritual house,” &c. (1 Peter 2:4-5).—C. Simeon, M.A.
THE DEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE
The dedication of the Temple was characterised by—
I. Religious rejoicing. “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.” It would not have been very surprising if they had mourned because it was so inferior in magnificence and splendour to the Temple of Solomon. It is probable “that the carving and the gold, and other ornaments of Solomon’s Temple far surpassed this, and the pillars of the portico and the veils may all have been far more splendid, so also probably were the vessels; and all this is what a Jew would mourn over far more than mere architectural splendour.” Moreover, some of the most sacred and glorious things of the first Temple were altogether absent from this one, e.g., the Ark of the covenant, the cherubim, the Shechinah, and the Urim and Thummim. Sometimes when we have reached the end of long cherished hopes and efforts, we are disappointed and depressed because the result does not come up to our ideal and desire. And we should not, therefore, have been surprised if the Jews had looked upon their finished work with sadness. But it was not so. They “kept the dedication of this house of God with joy.” And they had good reasons for devout gladness; e.g.—
1. Protracted labours brought to a successful termination.
2. The honour offered to Jehovah their God.
3. The benefits which were likely to accrue to men through their sacred edifice and its worship. Joyousness in the service of God is a conspicuous feature of the religious life in post-exile times. This is especially manifest in the Psalms of this period. Comp. Psalms 135, 136, 146-150, , 118, which, says Schultz, “without doubt the congregation then sung, although it was really composed somewhat earlier; and especially did they appropriate with greatly agitated hearts the shout of triumph: ‘The right hand of the Lord is exalted, the right hand of the Lord doth valiantly.… Open to me the gates of righteousness,” &c. And we also should “serve the Lord with gladness, come before His presence with singing, enter into His gates with thanksgiving,” &c. (a).
II. Devout gratitude. “And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs.” In these offerings we discover—
1. An expression of gratitude. They presented both burnt offerings and peace offerings; and while both were expressive of gratitude, the latter were especially so. The peace offerings were eucharistic. The Psalmist refers to them when he says, “I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” They had great and strong reasons for gratitude. “The Lord had done great things for them.” And they sang, “The Lord hath done great things for us; we are glad.” (b).
2. An expression of their complete self-dedication to God. The burnt offerings were laid whole upon the altar, and there consumed by fire, thus setting forth the entire consecration of the offerer to God. This was the chief meaning of the burnt offerings. The dedication of churches is acceptable to God only as the worshippers dedicate themselves to Him. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,” &c. (c).
The number of these offerings is small as compared with the very large number offered by Solomon at the dedication of the former Temple. “Solomon offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered unto the Lord, two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep.” But Zerubbabel offered only “an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats.” The total number of animals sacrificed then was 142,000; the total now is only 712. Yet Zerubbabel and the people with him offered—
(2.) Liberally, when we take into account their small numbers and reduced circumstances, as compared with those of the time of Solomon.
(3.) Cheerfully. And “if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, not according to that he hath not.”
III. Deep humility. “And for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.” Consider—
1. The nature of this offering. “A sin offering.” This was an acknowledgment of sin on the part of those for whom it was offered, and that the sinner deserved death by reason of his sin, but that God in His mercy accepted the death of the victim as an atonement for the sinner. And in this way the people humbly confess their sin before God. Sin had brought their miseries upon them, had stripped them of their national power and protection, had been the real cause of their captivity. Hence this sin offering was appropriate in its relation to past sins, and a hopeful indication as to their future conduct. (d).
2. The number of the victims composing this offering. “A sin offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.” The confession of sin was intended for the whole nation, and the atonement was designed “for all Israel.” This was a recognition on the part of the offerers of the unity of all the tribes, an evidence that “the Temple was intended for the entire covenant people,” and an expression of the hope that all would return to the land of their fathers, and to the enjoyment of the full privileges of the people of God.
IV. Appropriate arrangements for its future use. “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.” Thus arrangements were made for—
1. Regular and orderly services. They aimed at—
(1.) Completeness in their worship. Both priests and Levites were set in their respective spheres of work. No duties were to be neglected.
(2.) Continuity in their worship. They were set in classes and divisions, so that when one had fulfilled its appointed term of service another would take its place. (Comp. 1 Chronicles 23-26)
2. Scriptural services. “As it is written in the book of Moses.” They were careful that their worship should be in accordance with the expressed will of God. It is well said by Matthew Henry: “Though the Temple service could not now be performed with so much pomp and plenty as formerly, because of their poverty, yet perhaps it was performed with as much purity and close adherence to the Divine institution as ever, which was the true glory of it. No beauty like the beauty of holiness.”
It is perhaps unnecessary to add that the principal points of this exposition are applicable to the dedication of churches in our own day.
(a) The priests of old were not to sully themselves with sorrow when they performed their functions, and saints who are of a higher priesthood should show forth delight in their approaches to their God. Angels sing, and why not God’s other servants, who are a little lower, and yet far higher? David danced before the ark, which was but a symbol of Divinity; what ails us that our heart so seldom dances before the Lord Himself? The old creation has its sunshine and flowers, its lowing herds and bleating flocks; its heaven-mounting larks and warbling nightingales; its rivers laughing, and its seas clapping hands; is the new creation of grace to render less happy worship to God our exceeding joy? Nay, rather let us come into His presence with thanksgiving, and show ourselves glad in Him with psalms. Host of the English versions alter the old hundredth Psalm into, “Him serve with fear;” but for my part, by God’s grace I mean to sing it as it used to be and still is sung in Scotland—
“All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with MIRTH, His praise forth tell,
Come ye before Him and rejoice.”
—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) It is an excellent thing when Christian men know how to sing as well as to work, and mingle holy music with holy service. The best music of a Christian consists in thankfulness to God. Thanks should be rendered by the believer with all the acts common to men. Our eating, our drinking, our social meetings, our quiet conversings one with another, in all we should give thanks unto God and the Father. This we should do in the labours peculiar to our vocation. Whatever your trade and calling may be, if you cannot sing aloud, you can sing in your hearts while your hands are busy; you can ring out the praises of God as well to the sound of the hammer on the anvil as to the peal of the organ; your feet at the sewing machine may beat time to a sacred tune; you can as well praise God while you crack your whip as when you sing to a Psalm tune. Why not? If the heart be right you can mount up to the heavens from any place of labour.—Ibid.
(c) It is the end and essence of all religion to turn the mind from self to God; to give it absorbing views of the Divine beauty and glory; to fill it with Divine love and zeal; to make it feel honoured in honouring God, blessed in blessing Him; to make it feel that nothing is good enough or great enough for Him.… A man thus inspired will no more think of inquiring the advantages, the probable gain of his deeds and his adoration, than he would think of the profitableness of gazing with admiration on a lovely landscape, or regaling his soul with the noble qualities of a hero or a martyr. Such a man has offered himself to God; he has given his own soul, with all its powers. His other gifts are but results and forms of this first and greatest gift; all other offerings are virtually included in this. And, in truth, this consecration of self is the grand and essential condition, the seminal principle of all consecration. We have no just thought of God, no oneness of spirit with His Spirit, if we look on ourselves simply as sacrificers; we are sacrifices as well; both sacrificers and sacrifices; we have to present ourselves as sacrifices to God. And if there be this first and best offering, the offering of ourselves, it will infuse a spirit of life and fulness into all our service, animating the form, quickening the body of all service; a spirit of delight and strength and earnestness; a large and enlarging, a noble and an ennobling spirit. The prudent, commercial temper, in religion, is one of narrowness and pain and bondage; we never possess ourselves thoroughly till we forget ourselves, never realise our power and inherit our portion till all spiritual engagements and acts cease to be the mere meeting of a demand, the mere performance of a condition, and become the home and rest and reward of the soul.—A. J. Morris.
(d) The effect of these views and recollections viz., those of true Christians) are penitence, contrition, and deep humiliation of soul, and by them all their religious feelings are pervaded and characterised. When they love their God and Redeemer, it is with a penitent love; when they rejoice in Him, it is with a penitent joy; when they believe in Him, it is with a penitent faith; when they obey Him, it is with a penitent obedience; when they offer Him thanksgivings and praises, penitence mingles with them her humble confessions and contrite sighs; and the place on earth which they most covet, in which they most delight, is that of the woman who stood weeping at the feet of Christ, washing them with her tears, and wiping them with the hairs of her head. Even while observing a joyful festival, tears, the fountain of which is supplied by godly sorrow for sin, and gratitude to the Redeemer; tears, which it is delightful to shed, are seen on the same countenances which glow with love and hope, and beam with holy humble joy in God.—E. Payson, D.D.
THE CELEBRATION OF THE PASSOVER
A fews weeks after the dedication of the Temple the feasts of the Passover and of unleavened bread were celebrated; and this marked the beginning of the new period in which the worship of God, with its festivals and observances, was regularly and fully carried on.
I. The personal preparation for these sacred festivals. This comprised—
1. The purification of the priests and Levites from ceremonial uncleanness. “For the priests and Levites had purified themselves as one man, they were all clean, and killed the Passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.” “The purity of ministers adds much to the beauty of their ministrations.” They who “bear the vessels of the Lord” should be clean (Isaiah 52:7).
2. The separation of the people from heathen, associations and immoralities. “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.” And separation from sinners and their corrupt practices is still indispensable to union and communion with God. “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate,” &c. (2 Corinthians 6:16-18). We cannot meet with God in holy fellowship unless we are in a suitable spiritual condition. And as a rule, men require preparation of heart (Job 11:13), in order to meet Him thus. To enjoy intimate communion with God, we must turn aside from the ways of darkness, and “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:5-7). (a).
II. The principal significance of these sacred festivals. It would be out of place here to enter at any length into a consideration of the meaning of these feasts. But inasmuch as their chief significance was emphasised upon this special occasion, it behoves us to notice that significance.
1. The Passover was a memorial of their covenant relation with God. “The Exodus,” as Dr. Howson observes, “was looked upon as the birth of the nation; the Passover was its annual birthday feast. Nearly all the rites of the festival, if explained in the most natural manner, appear to point to this as to its primary meaning. It was the yearly memorial of the dedication of the people to Him who had saved their first-born from the destroyer, in order that they might be made holy to Himself. This was the lesson which they were to teach to their children throughout all generations. When the young Hebrew asked his father regarding the paschal lamb, ‘What is this?’ the answer prescribed was, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt,’ &c. (Exodus 13:14-15). Hence, in the periods of great national restoration in the times of Joshua, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Ezra, the Passover was observed in a special manner, to remind the people of their true position, and to mark their renewal of the covenant which their fathers had made.” This covenant relation was originally based upon what God had done for them in bringing them out of their bondage in Egypt, and in preserving their first-born from the destroying angel; and now the grounds of that relation were strengthened by the deliverance from Babylon, which He had effected for them, and by the fact that He had raised up for them such powerful and liberal friends as Cyrus and Darius. Thus they had special reasons for celebrating this Passover with extraordinary heartiness and devotion. How many and mighty are the reasons which constrain us to devote ourselves to God! (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). (b).
2. The feast of unleavened bread was a solemn recognition of their obligation to live holily unto God. “The unleavened bread signified the abiding state of consecrated holiness.” “Through the feast of unleavened bread,” says Schultz, “they vowed, in that the strict abstinence from leaven was connected therewith, to walk not in the old leaven of wickedness and wantonness, but in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (Comp. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.) “We have far more cogent motives to rise into the new and pure life of sincerity and truth.” (c).
III. The special joy in these sacred festivals. “And they kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy.”
1. All the ordinary reasons for joy were applicable upon this occasion. The great facts commemorated were joy-inspiring. So also was the covenant relation which arose from these facts, with its privileges, &c.
2. There were also special reasons for joy on this occasion. “For the Lord had made them joyful, and had 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.”
(1.) The Author of their joy. “The Lord had made them joyful.” They regarded Him as the great fountain of all their blessings. “All my springs are in Thee.”
(2.) The occasion of their joy. That by the favour and assistance of Cyrus and Darius they had completed the Temple of God, and were able to celebrate all the sacred ordinances of their religion in a becoming manner.
(3.) The character of their joy. It was religious in its source, occasion, character, and expression. It expressed itself in the reverent worship of the holy God. Let our joy be of the same character. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: again I say, Rejoice.” (d).
(a) Sequester yourselves from all earthly employments, and set apart some time for solemn preparation to meet God in duty. You cannot come hot, reeking out of the world into God’s presence, but you will find the influence of it in your duties. It is with the heart a few minutes since plunged into the world, now at the feet of God, just as with the sea after a storm, which still continues working muddy and disquiet; though the wind be laid and storm over, thy heart must have some time to settle. There are few musicians that can take down a lute or viol, and play presently upon it, without some time to tune it. When thou goest to God in any duty, take thy heart aside, and say, “O my soul, I am now addressing myself to the greatest work that ever a creature was employed about. I am going into the awful presence of God, about business of everlasting moment.”—H. G. Salter.
(b) Dr. Doddridge, on one occasion, interested himself on behalf of a condemned criminal, and at length succeeded in obtaining his pardon. On announcing to him the joyful intelligence, he prostrated himself at the Doctor’s feet, and exclaimed, “Oh, sir, every drop of my blood thanks you, for you have had mercy on every drop of it! Wherever you go, I will be yours.” With how much greater propriety may the Christian prostrate himself at the feet of Christ, and make use of similar language.—Bible Illustrations.
(c) “Holiness to the Lord!” where is that inscription to be stamped now? Not on the vestments of any Levitical order; not on plates of sacerdotal gold, worn upon the forehead. Priest and Levite have passed by. The Jewish tabernacle has expanded into that world-wide brotherhood where whosoever doeth righteousness is accepted. Morning has risen into day. Are we children of that day? For form, we have spirit; for Gerizim and Zion, our common scenery. The ministry of Aaron is ended. His ephod, with its gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, and cunning work, has faded and dropped. The curious girdle and its chains of wreathen gold are broken. The breastplate of judgment that lay against his heart, and its fourfold row of triple jewels—of sardines, topaz, and carbuncle—of emerald, sapphire, and diamond—of ligure, agate, and amethyst—of beryl, onyx, and jasper—has been crushed and lost. The pomegranates are cast aside like untimely fruit. The golden bells are silent. Even the mitre, with its sacred signet, and the grace of the fashion of it, has perished. All the outward beauty and glory of that Hebrew worship which the Lord commanded Moses has vanished into the eternal splendours of the Gospel, and been fulfilled in Christ. What teaching has it left? what other than this?—that we are to engrave our “Holiness to the Lord,” first on the heart, and then on all that the heart goes out into, through the brain and the hand: on the plates of gold our age of enterprise is drawing up from mines, and beating into currency; on bales of merchandise and books of account; on the tools and bench of every handicraft; on your weights and measures; on pen and plough and pulpit; on the doorposts of your houses, and the utensils of your table, and the walls of your chambers; on cradle and playthings and school-books; on the locomotives of enterprise, and the bells of the horses, and the ships of navigation; on music-halls and libraries; on galleries of art, and the lyceum desk; on all of man’s inventing and building, all of his using and enjoying; for all these are trusts in a stewardship, for which the Lord of the servants reckoneth.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(d) Christianity is not a sepulchral thing, a gloomy life, a depressed condition of social existence. It is impossible that it can be so as the world brands it, with such a prescription as this from an apostle’s lips, “Rejoice evermore.” True, the Christian has his sorrows; but these are not unsweetened. True, the Christian life has its shadows and its showers; but these are not unmingled with bright beams of heavenly light; and the saddest aspects of a Christian’s daily life are but the April showers of spring that usher in the approaching bright and beautiful summer—the everlasting and the heavenly sunshine. Christian life is not a penance, as the Romanist thinks it; but a privilege, as God describes it. It is not a reluctant sacrifice wrung from us, but a joyous and freewill offering gladly and gratefully rendered by us. And, therefore, the light of our life is not a dim, but a bright religious life. The injunction of our Apostle is, “Rejoice always;” and the prayer of the Apostle’s Lord, “That My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” And Peter, catching up the thought of his Lord still shining with undiminished lustre on the leaves of memory, answers in his epistle, “Whom, having not seen, we love; in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” And the Apostle Paul, echoing the same grand sentiment, says, “We joy in God.” “Rejoice; again I say, Rejoice.” This shows us, that of all happy men upon earth the Christian should be happiest. His sorrows come from sin, his griefs spring from evil; his sunshine, his gladness, and his joy are the spontaneous and moral elements of his true Christian and holy life.—John Cumming, D.D.
THE DEDICATION OF THE SECOND TEMPLE
Notes for Scripture Lesson. (Ezra 6:16-22)
The new house at length was ready. It was larger than the Temple of Solomon (see article on Second Temple in any good Bible dictionary), though very far less gorgeous. Its size, however, was “not larger than an average parish church of the last century. Solomon’s was smaller.” (Article, “Temple of Zerubbabel,” Smith’s Bibl. Dict.) There is, too, a very great contrast between the number of sacrifices at the dedication of the two Temples (comp. Ezra 6:17, with 2 Chronicles 7:5), as there is also between the gorgeousness of the ritual in one case, and its comparative plainness in the other. Each feature noted by Ezra is of interest and importance.
I. The occasion was one of joy—the worship of God should be joyful. Hebrew and Christian worship are joyful, because believers worship a revealed God of salvation. Heathen worship is a straining or groping of man after God (1 Kings 18:26-29). It cannot be joyful. But we worship a God of Love, who revealed Himself to the Hebrews in sacrifices and prophecy, and who reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ, “full of beauty, truth, and grace.” If we would see the gladsomeness of the worship in the second Temple, let us turn to the 146th, 147th, and 148th Psalms, which were composed by, or under the direction of, Haggai and Zechariah, for the service of this house of God. The burden of Hebrew song is “Rejoice in the Lord!”
II. The service was one for which all who had to take part in it had previously purified themselves (Ezra 6:20). All who have to take any part in the work of teaching, or worship of God’s house, should prepare themselves for it by communion with God, and a renewal of the covenant with Him to put away all iniquity.
III. There were burnt offerings as a token of the consecration of the people (see the title of these Psalms in the LXX.), heart and soul afresh to God (Ezra 6:17; Ezra 6:1 st part). Let us
(1) glory in what God is to us, and
(2) give our whole selves to God.
IV. There were sin offerings—“A sin offering for all Israel” (Ezra 6:17). Every tribe was represented. These sin offerings were “but shadows of good things to come” (see Hebrews 10:1-12; John 1:29). In Divine worship there should always be a recognition of sin, and of Christ’s having “put away sin” by the sacrifice of Himself.
V. There was the observance of the Passover (Exodus 12:0). Doubtless an effort was made to finish the Temple at the close of the year, that the feast, which celebrated the great national deliverance of the people, might naturally fall in place during the dedication ceremonies. Their national life was based on redemption. They loved God, because God loved them; this is the order now, and we cannot reverse it (1 John 4:19).
VI. The feast of unleavened bread was kept joyfully for seven days.
(1) A feast in token of national unity and fellowship;
(2) of unleavened bread, in token of their desire to cultivate purity;
(3) a feast in which, as of old, “the stranger” joined, if ready to separate himself to Israel’s God (Ezra 6:21; Exodus 12:48-49).
VII. The new national life thus inaugurated had far less of pomp and show about it than were seen in the days of Solomon. But there was more of spiritual power (Haggai 2:9). The people had been purified in the furnace of affliction, and from this time idolatry was unknown among them.—C. Clemance, D.D.
THE DEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE
Outline of Scripture Lesson. (Whole Chapter)
I. The Jews had a truth to learn which God knew only captivity in a strange land would teach them. That truth was, that national and individual prosperity depend on the maintenance of religious worship. The captivity had the desired effect; the people traced their fall to its real source (Psalms 137:1-2). Ages before, they, on looking back, had remembered other things (Numbers 11:4-5), and would willingly return to the house of bondage for the sake of creature comforts. Long ages of national discipline and Divine teaching had taught them that men do not live by bread alone. (Comp. Deuteronomy 8:3 with Matthew 4:4.) Now they remembered and sighed for the nourishment of their higher life. Instead of recalling, with tears, the land flowing with milk and honey, and their former political greatness, and the glory of their kings (as David and Solomon), they “wept when they remembered Zion.”
Bring out the province of memory, and how the character is indicated by that which memory recalls with most of joy or of sorrow. The day will come when the memory of each one will be most active, when the Lord will say to many an one, “Son, remember” (Luke 16:25).
II. They showed how well they had learned this truth by at once, on their return, commencing the rebuilding of the Temple, and persevering with the work, in the midst of many difficulties and interruptions, for twenty-one years. Let the teacher bring out the difference between the work of the people on coming out of the Egyptian house of bondage; and now, on returning from the Babylonian captivity, show how the different work is indicative of great progress in national sentiment and religious life. The old work showed that freedom was then won by the sword; this, that the greatest freedom and happiness of a people are secured by the truth (John 8:32), the central, liberty—winning truth being, There is one true and everliving God, and that happy is the people whose God is the Lord (Psalms 144:15).
So far, what has been said may be regarded as recapitulatory exercise.
III. Their persevering, self-denying work was crowned with success—the Temple was at length finished. The completion of great undertakings is a time of great interest. Take, as examples, some celebrated buildings, palaces, fortresses, exhibition buildings, &c. Will they answer the purpose for which they have been erected? Is the purpose one that warrants the expectation of the Divine blessing? If not (as the Tower of Babel), the building will presently become a monument of human folly (Psalms 127:1).
Bring out the purpose of this building, and show its importance, relatively, to other erections. The Temple was built before the walls of the city were repaired. It was the true rock of strength, the fortress, the spiritual Gibraltar, the key to the possession of the Promised Land. Why? (See Psalms 46:0; Psalms 18:2-3; Psalms 71:3.)
IV. It was meet that the opening services should be marked by the liveliest demonstrations of religious joy.
1. For here was a vast work, pursued by a small number of people through many interruptions, and continued for many years—(during which those who assisted at the foundation, above twenty years before, were daily dying off)—brought to a successful close; while enemies and difficulties increased, the stimulating influence of the presence of the elders of the people diminished.
2. Not only was there the joy caused by the ending of the work, joy caused by retrospective glances, but joy inflamed by the hope of the future. We are accustomed, in the opening of places of worship, to rejoice in the prospect of the truth that may be there proclaimed to future generations.
3. It was joy marked by feasting and song. Probably they sang Psalms 146, 147, 148, which, in the Septuagint, are called Psalms of Haggai and Zechariah. Reference to these Psalms will show that joy was deep and religious; that they praised God as the Creator of the world, as the God of providence, and as the God of Israel, and (see Psalms 148:11-12) that all classes and ages were to share in the joy and the song.
4. It was joy marked by the control of law and order. It was no wild bacchanalian revelry, but devout and reverential thanksgiving. There was in it the remembrance of former mercies (see Ezra 6:20-22). Hence the acknowledgment of the God of the past as the God of the present, and the belief that He would be the God of the future.
V. In spirit and principle, this dedication of the Temple may be applied in the case of the opening of any building devoted to religious purposes. Such an event is an occasion for joy of the deepest and most holy kind. There is in it the grateful memory of the past, and believing hopefulness for the future. All places of prayer, and religious work in the world, are the true successors of this Temple, whose dedication we have been considering. They are designed to conserve and to promulgate that salvation which is of the Jews, and which, by type and ceremony, was first manifested by shadows in the past, but which now with clearer light has appeared unto all men.
VI. We are engaged in rearing a Temple. It is not built of bricks and stones, but of living souls. In it are our sons and our daughters, polished after the similitude of a palace.
(1.) Have we a place therein?
(2.) Are we doing our utmost to bring others in?
(3.) Let us not be content till every one in our class is built up into this spiritual temple.
(4.) Let us also labour for the whole school, and for the world at large; till, as the glory of God filled the Temple of old, the “whole earth may be filled with His glory” in the reign of love, and truth, and salvation.—J. Cowper Gray.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26