EZRA 5 - 6


I’m not much of a sports fan. Though I enjoy participating in sports, the very idea of watching other people exercise leaves me cold. But a number of years I found myself watching one of the Olympic events. It was a race. I’m not certain, but it may have been the Marathon. In any event, the runners were in their final two or three laps. The lead runner crossed the finish line. For him the race was over, but the other runners never slowed up. And then something took place that grabbed everyone’s attention. One of the runners collapsed on the track. Bent over double and clutching his side, it was evident that he was in great pain. He struggled to get again to his feet but could not. From the stadium stands, an older man rushed to the track. The security guards at first sought to detain him, but then they recognized him as the young runner’s father. The father reached his son and helped him to his feet. And then, with his support and at a very unsteady gait, the two continued the last lap and the finish of the race.

They were dead last. But they finished the race. And as they crossed the finish line together, there was a thunderous roar of approval from the spectators. I do not think that there was a dry eye in the stadium.

There is something deeply satisfying about finishing a project. This is especially true when that project is one that has the endorsement of the Lord. There is something inherently glorious in completing a task that has been mandated by heaven.

That is what takes place in the fifth and sixth chapters of Ezra. In the previous chapters, God had provided the vision, the permission and the materials for the rebuilding of His temple. But then opposition had arisen. The people became discouraged. And the work stopped. A year passed. And then another year. And another. And still the work remained incomplete.

Finally something takes place that will bring a renewal of the task. It is the Lord Himself who brings this about through a revelation to His prophets.



When the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them, 2 then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them supporting them. (Ezra 5:1-2).

As we read this, we must understand that the books of the Bible are not arranged in an exact chronological order from Genesis to Revelation. There are occasional overlaps. This is one of them. As we turn from the end of chapter 4 to begin chapter 5, we must understand that the books of Haggai and Zechariah have been written in the interim.

Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying,

"Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?" (Haggai 1:3-4).

The Jews had already returned to their homeland and had set about rebuilding their homes. This initial work was now completed. They had resettled in the land. They had even set out to rebuild the Temple. But at the first sight of opposition, they had given up on that endeavor. It is like the old saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough quit." They instead had focused their attention upon themselves and their own farms and properties. And so, Haggai calls them to account.

Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, "Consider your ways!

You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes." (Haggai 1:5-6).

Haggai is very down-to-earth and is to this era what the epistles are to the New Testament. Zechariah, by contrast, contains a great many symbols and visions and is to this era what Revelation is to the New Testament.

Haggai describes the situation that existed among the people of the land. There were housing shortages, disappointing harvests, lack of clothing and jobs, and inflation had taken its toll. People were working more and more for less and less.

Haggai uses a play on words as he proclaims that because the Lord's house had remained "a ruin" (hareb, Haggai 1:4, 9), the Lord would bring "a drought" (horeb, Haggai 1:11) on the land. The reason that things were going hard for the Jews was because they were not giving their full devotion to the Lord.

How about you? Is the daily grind grinding you down? Are you running the rat race and tired of the fact that, even if you were to win, you would still just be a rat? Are you working harder and harder for less and less which has to pay for more and more? Perhaps the real issue is your devotion to the Lord.

Ezra’s account does not give us the exact dates of when this took place. But we do find that information provided in the books of Haggai and Zechariah.


Date of his Ministry


2nd year of Darius, in the 6th month (Haggai 1:1).

August - December, 520 B.C.


2nd year of Darius, in the 8th month (Zechariah 1:1).

October, 520 B.C.

Notice what is the mechanism that the Lord uses to renew the work of construction on His Temple. It is the prophetic revelation which brings about a renewed leadership to the task at hand.

God speaks to His prophets


The prophets preach


The leaders lead


The people follow

Notice that the Lord works to move the LEADERSHIP of His people to bring about His work. This is the normal pattern in which God works.




Zechariah & Haggai


Zerubbabel, though technically not a king, was a descendant of the royal line.

Both the prophets and the priests and the descendant of the king had a role in the completion of the work of the Temple. They were working together and there is no indication of any jealousy or friction between any of them.

There is a principle here that you need to see. It is that God usually brings His blessings upon His people through the leadership of that people.

This is seen in the kings of Judah and Israel. When a godly king came to the throne, God blessed both that king as well as his subjects with prosperity. When an evil king came to the throne, the Lord brought famine and pestilence and foreign enemies against that king and against his subjects. It is for this reason that the Scriptures urge us to pray for our governmental leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

This also has an application for families. Fathers have an awesome responsibility, not only for their own spiritual lives, but for the spiritual lives of their families. If you are a father, then you are responsible for the spiritual well-being of your entire household. As you follow the Lord and are obedient to His Word, so shall your family receive blessings from the Lord. And as you are disobedient to the Word of truth, so shall your family reap the negative consequences of your disobedience.



At that time Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues came to them and spoke to them thus, "Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?"

Then we told them accordingly what the names of the men were who were reconstructing this building.

But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until a report could come to Darius, and then a written reply be returned concerning it. (Ezra 5:3-5).

It is not long before news of the renewed construction project gets out. The local Persian governor soon pays a visit to the site and questions the workers.

His question would have been intimidating in the extreme. "Who gave you the authority for these actions?" He is taking names for an official report to the king. Those in leadership will bear the full responsibility for their actions. The names are given and the report is sent in.

It should be noted that Tattenai had both the authority and the wherewithal to halt the work of reconstruction pending his inquiries. But he did not do so. Instead he allows the work to continue while he makes his inquiries.

Why? What prevented him from stopping the work? The answer is given in verse 5 - the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews. As a result, the work continued unabated.



This is the copy of the letter which Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai and his colleagues the officials, who were beyond the River, sent to Darius the king.

They sent a report to him in which it was written thus: "To Darius the king, all peace.

"Let it be known to the king that we have gone to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God, which is being built with huge stones, and beams are being laid in the walls; and this work is going on with great care and is succeeding in their hands.

"Then we asked those elders and said to them thus, ‘Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?’

"We also asked them their names so as to inform you, and that we might write down the names of the men who were at their head.

"Thus they answered us, saying, ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. 12 But because our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon. 13 However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. 14 Also the gold and silver utensils of the house of God which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, and brought them to the temple of Babylon, these King Cyrus took from the temple of Babylon and they were given to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor. 15 He said to him, ‘Take these utensils, go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem and let the house of God be rebuilt in its place.’ 16 Then that Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem; and from then until now it has been under construction and it is not yet completed.’

"Now if it pleases the king, let a search be conducted in the king's treasure house, which is there in Babylon, if it be that a decree was issued by King Cyrus to rebuild this house of God at Jerusalem; and let the king send to us his decision concerning this matter. (Ezra 5:6-17).

I love the response that is reported to Tattenai’s questioning of the Jewish workers. He reports how he sought to find out who had instituted this work. In replay, they dutifully report the names of their leaders, but they do not stop there. They go on to say that they are working as servants of the God of heaven and earth (Ezra 5:11).

There is a respectful boldness in their answer. On the one hand, they wish to give no affront to the civil authorities. To this end, they appeal to the former Decree of Cyrus. The fact that they ask that it be searched out indicates that they did not have a copy of the original decree in their possession. And so, they respectfully ask that it be located to substantiate their claim. On the other hand, they are determined to obey God rather than men. Therefore they state in no uncertain terms that they are servants of God.



Then King Darius issued a decree, and search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon.

In Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found and there was written in it as follows: "Memorandum

"In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: "Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained, its height being 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits; 4 with three layers of huge stones and one layer of timbers. And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury.

"Also let the gold and silver utensils of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be returned and brought to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; and you shall put them in the house of God.’

"Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai and your colleagues, the officials of the provinces beyond the River, keep away from there.

"Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site.

"Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God: the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the River, and that without delay.

"Whatever is needed, both young bulls, rams, and lambs for a burnt offering to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and anointing oil, as the priests in Jerusalem request, it is to be given to them daily without fail, 10 that they may offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.

"And I issued a decree that any man who violates this edict, a timber shall be drawn from his house and he shall be impaled on it and his house shall be made a refuse heap on account of this.

"May the God who has caused His name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who attempts to change it, so as to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have issued this decree, let it be carried out with all diligence!" (Ezra 6:1-12).

The Decree of Darius is presented in a reverse parallel to the Letter of Tattenai. This type of parallelism is known as a chiasm.

Tattenai’s Letter of Inquiry

Report: Work is being done diligently (5:7-8)

Inquiry as to authorization (5:9-10)

Reply of Jewish Elders: Cyrus Edict (5:11-16)

Request: Search for Cyrus Edict (5:17).

Darius’ Letter of Reply

Successful search for Cyrus Edict (6:1-2).

Text of Cyrus Edict (6:3-5).

Darius’ authorization (6:6-12).

Decree: Let it be done with all diligence (6:12).

In keeping with the request, a search is made of the official archives and Babylon and the Edict is NOT discovered. But that is not surprising. Babylon no longer served as the center of an empire. The Persians now ruled from their own palace cities in the east.

Xenophon tells us that it was the habit of Cyrus to spend the winter in Babylon, the spring in Susa and the summer in Ecbatana (Cyropaedia 8:6:22).



Then Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues carried out the decree with all diligence, just as King Darius had sent.

And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. (Ezra 6:13-14).

Once permission has been given, the full weight of the Persian government lends itself to assist in the project. There is a symphony of effort as the elders and the prophets and the Lord and even the kings of Persia combine their mutual efforts to rebuild the Temple of God.

It has been noted that there is no mention of Zerubbabel from this point on. It could be that he had either retired from leadership or that he had even died. Or it could be that he is not mentioned because his role from this point onward was more "behind the scenes."



This temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. (Ezra 6:15).

In this chapter we come full cycle in our story of the rebuilding of the Temple. We started out in chapter 3 where the work was begun. Then it was halted in chapter 4. In the last chapter we saw it resumed and the workers were questioned by the local governor. Finally, at the end of this chapter, we see the work completed.

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

The work of rebuilding is BEGUN

The work of rebuilding is HALTED

The work of rebuilding is RENEWED

The work of rebuilding is COMPLETED



And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.

They offered for the dedication of this temple of God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel.

Then they appointed the priests to their divisions and the Levites in their orders for the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses. (Ezra 6:16-18).

Now the Jews enter into a service of dedication as they present the results of their labors to the Lord. It is a joyous time of sacrifice of worship as the priests are appointed to their appropriate divisions - the priesthood is divided into 24 courses so that each course would officiate twice per year in the temple. All of the courses would come together at the times of the great feasts.

Now as they come, it is for a time of celebration to the Lord. We are told the number of sacrifices that are brought and the number is considerably less than was brought for the initial dedication of the Temple in the days of Solomon. There are considerable less worshipers gathered. And the Temple may be considerably smaller. But that is okay. The issue is not the size of the offering, the number of people or the size of the structure. The issue is the heart of worship.

One key thing that is lacking in this dedication which was observable in the previous dedications of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple was the visible presence of the Lord in the Shekinah Cloud. After the Tabernacle was erected, we read that the cloud of the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle so that even Moses was not able to enter in (Exodus 40:34-35). In the same way, when Solomon’s Temple was dedicated, the cloud of God filled the Temple so that the priests were for a time unable to minister (2 Kings 8:10-11).

But this time there is no mention of the cloud. There is no visible presence of the Lord. The people celebrate, but there is silence from heaven. The book of Malachi contains a promise of the coming of the Lord’s presence.

"Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1).

The promise was that the Lord would one day come to His temple. But that coming would be preceded by a messenger who would prepare the way before Him.

This was literally fulfilled in the persons of John the Baptist and Jesus. John was the messenger of God who broke the prophetic silence after 400 years. And Jesus is the Lord incarnate who came suddenly to His Temple, overturning the tables of those who had defiled it and presenting Himself as the very Messiah of God.



The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth of the first month.

For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure. Then they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, both for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

The sons of Israel who returned from exile and all those who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land to join them, to seek the LORD God of Israel, ate the Passover.

And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. (Ezra 6:19-22).

The Passover stood at the very beginning of the Jewish Religious Year. It celebrated the time when the Lord had delivered the Israelites from Egypt. There is something of a correlation between the events of the Exodus and the events of the book of Ezra.



Began with the people of God enslaved in Egypt

Began with the the people of God in captivity in Mesopotamia

God moved Pharaoh to release the people

God moved Cyrus to allow the people to return

The Israelites took contributions from the Egyptians from which they constructed the Tabernacle

The Jews took contributions from those who remained and from the Persian Treasury to rebuild the Temple

Since the time of the exile, the Jews would have been unable to properly observe the Passover

The mention of the king of Assyria in verse 22 seems unusual as there had not been a literal king of Assyria since the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 B.C. However, the term Assyria continued to be used to describe the lands which made up its formerly occupied territory, much the same way that someone might use a reference of "Russia" to describe all of the territories which were controlled by the former U.S.S.R. prior to its breakup.

with its sacrificed lamb. After all, the only appropriate place to sacrifice the needed lamb would have been at the Temple. In the same way, since the destruction of the temple by Titus in A.D. 70, Jews have not been able to sacrifice Passover lambs but have substituted eggs and roasted meat.

The Passover ultimately looked forward to the One who would be the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb, giving Himself for the sins of the world so that the wrath of God might pass over those who were under the sentence of death. It was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ and it is no accident that his crucifixion took place at the time of the Jewish Passover.




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