Jews finish Jerusalem Temple
Darius funds the Temple1King Darius ordered his archivists to search the royal records in Babylon. 2Researchers found nothing relevant there. Instead, they found a scroll in Ecbatana, capital of the province of Media. It said,
“Official record. 3King Cyrus issued this decree during the first year of his reign: This is about the destroyed Temple of God in Jerusalem. Let the people rebuild this place of worship, where the Jews bring their sacrifices. Build it 30 yards high and 30 yards wide. 4Frame it with one beam of wood between every three columns of cut-to-fit-stone. This Temple’s on the house. The Persian treasury will supply the building materials.
5Also, give the Jews everything Nebuchadnezzar took from God’s Temple and brought to Babylon. Send all those silver and gold objects back to where they came from, to God’s Temple.
Darius tells officials to let Jews build Temple6Now this message is for Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River. It’s also for Shethar-bozenai and all the other associates and officials in that province. Don’t bother the Jews. Stay away. 7Let them rebuild that temple to their God. Don’t interfere. Let the governor of the Jews and the other Jewish leaders build the temple on the site of the former one.
8That’s not all. I want you to cover the cost of their building supplies. Pay for it from taxes you collect west of the Euphrates. Instead of sending it to the royal treasury, use it to cover the temple building costs. Don’t slow-track this. Get that money to them right away.
9Cover the cost for their sacrifices, too. Buy them whatever they need: young bulls, rams, and sheep they can slaughter and burn on the altar of their God. Cover the cost of whatever wheat, salt, wine, or olive oil they need for their rituals. Whatever the priests say they need for these offerings, pay for it day after day. Don’t refuse them. 10I want them to offer sacrifices that will delight the God of heaven. And I want these people to sincerely pray for the safety and health of their king and his family.
11Don’t mess this up. Here’s what I want you to do to anyone who disobeys my decree. Pull a beam from that person’s house and impale the person with it. Tear down the house. 12I don’t want a king or anyone else to disobey these orders. And I don’t want anyone trying to destroy the Jerusalem Temple of God. May God himself kill anyone or any nation who tries. I’m Darius, and these are my orders. I’ve told you what to do. Now do it.”
Jews dedicate their new Temple13Governor Tattenai, Shethar-bozenai, and other officials in the province west of the Euphrates followed the king’s orders. To the letter.
14The building project went smoothly from then on, under the direction of the Jewish leaders and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. Builders finished the Temple, as commanded by God and by all three Persian kings involved: Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. 15Builders finished the Temple in the spring of 515 BC. Darius had been king for six years. They finished on the third day of the Jewish month of Adar.
16Everyone in Israel celebrated the Temple’s dedication, especially priests, their associates the Levites, and all the other Jews who came back from exile. 17To dedicate the Temple of God, Jews sacrificed a huge number of animals: 100 bulls, 200 rams, and 400 lambs. They also sacrificed 12 goats—one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. They did this as a sin offering of repentance for all of Israel.
18Priests and Levites got their assignments and started their work. Moses wrote job descriptions for them long ago, and they followed those instructions.
Jews celebrate first Passover at new Temple19These Jews back from exile celebrated their first Passover at the Jerusalem Temple a few weeks later, in the spring of 515 BC.
20Priests and Levites ritually purified themselves for Passover. Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs people brought, along with lambs they brought for themselves. 21Jews ate the Passover meal. So did some of their neighbors who gave up pagan gods and customs in favor of the LORD, God of Israel.
22The people had a happy week celebrating the Festival of Yeast-Free Bread. They were grateful that the Temple of God was finished and that the Persian king supported the work.
The Persian capital was in Susa, in what is now Iran. But Babylon is where King Cyrus conquered the Babylonians. And that’s where he freed the captives Babylon had taken over the years. Babylon is in Iraq, near the capital city of Baghdad.
Media had once been an empire of its own in what is now northern Iran. Ecbatana, now Hamadan, Iran, was an important city in the Persian Empire, as the discovery of Cyrus’ scroll suggests. The city was about 280 miles northeast of Babylon as the raven flies, or 450 kilometers.
Literally 60 cubits. A cubit was considered the distance of a man’s forearm, from elbow to fingertips. That’s roughly 18 inches or 44 centimeters. This translates to roughly 90 feet or 27 meters. Cyrus didn’t dictate the length of the building. The first Temple, built by King Solomon was 30 yards long, 10 yards wide, and 15 yards high (27 by 9 by 14 meters).
More literally (and vaguely), “with three courses of cut stone and one course of timber.” Some translate that as “three layers of cut stone and one layer of timber.” But that might seem like a lot of layers. Cut stones in Herod’s Temple of Jesus’ time weighed at least a few tons. One weighed in at 160,000 pounds (72,574 kg). That’s 80 tons, which is about the size of an Orca Killer Whale. It’s also about the weight of four of London’s double-decker buses, fully loaded with American tourists.
This might explain why the king bothered to limit the size of the temple. He was paying the bill. He didn’t want it too small or too big. Just right.
This is a guess about what officials are supposed to do with the house. The meaning of the Hebrew term is uncertain. Some translate it as “destroy,” “confiscate,” or “turn into a dung heap.” Whatever it means, it doesn’t sound good for the family left behind.
Artaxerxes didn’t order or even encourage the Jews to build the Temple. He didn’t become king until 50 years after Jews finished building the Temple in 515 BC. He reigned from 465-424 BC. But he did later express his support for the Temple, in a letter he wrote that’s preserved in 7:11-26.
Some date the event to March 12, based on the dates identified in this verse, cross-checked with related dates found in Persian records. This reveals that Jews rebuilt the Temple 70 years after Babylonians destroyed the first Temple. Some scholars say this is the “70 years in Babylon” that the prophet Jeremiah was talking about in Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10.
Adar goes from mid-February to mid-March. Jews followed a lunar calendar.
Why not, the Persians were paying for it (6:9).
A sin offering can refer to something the people of Israel brought to God after they realized they had accidentally broken one of God’s laws earlier. Some scholars say a better translation is the opposite of “sin” because the sacrifice is intended to “un-sin” people, to purify them. So those scholars call it a “purification offering.”
Job descriptions for priests and Levites: Numbers 3 and 18.
The Hebrew word is pesach (PAY sock). It refers to the annual Passover meal today called a seder (SAY dur), which means “order.” That’s a reference to the fact that the Passover meal is eaten as a meticulously detailed ritual of reading, remembering, and prayer. The word “Passover” comes from the story of God or one of his angels killing the Egyptian firstborn, but “passing over” Hebrew homes with animal blood on the doorframes (Exodus 12).
Some date this to April 21, 515 BC. See related footnote for 6:17. The Hebrew text reports the date as the first month on the Jewish calendar, Nisan, and the fourteenth day. The month of Adar, in 6:17, is the twelfth month.
Ritual purification included washing clothes, abstinence from sex, a ritual bath, and a waiting period (Exodus 19:15; Leviticus 15).
More often called the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days leading up to the Passover seder meal, Jews were not to eat anything with yeast in it. Instead, observant Jews eat a large cracker-like bread called matzo. This was to remind them that when God freed their Hebrew ancestors from Egypt, they left in such a rush that they didn’t have time to wait for bread dough to rise. They quickly made flat bread for the trip, and then hit the road in a hurry (Exodus 12).
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