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Week 6

Ezra Chapter Six


When: The events of Chapter 6 follow several months after the events of chapter 5 and extend four years. 

What:  In Chapter 5, Tattenai requested that Darius, king of Persia, make a search to see if King Cyrus had permitted the returning exiles to rebuild the Temple to their God. King Darius did just that and chapter six deals with the results of that search.

Read Chapter Six and consider the following


  1. Did you take note of the reversals (in King Darius, Tattenai, and his other colleagues). List those.

  2. Did you notice the numerous references to the Israelite's obedience (to God's commands)?

  3. Why did the author make so many mentions to the joy that resonates in the reversals and the obedience?

  4. Why 12 goats at the altar?

1.  Reversals. As we discussed in the last chapter, as soon as the Israelites turned their attention away from their own homes and back to God’s house, the Persian officials began harassing them again, “Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?” (5:3). The Israelite’s success troubled the officials enough that they went directly to the king with their concerns. Remember the impetus for their concerns from chapter four? -- Why let this threat grow to the detriment of our interests? The Persians were afraid of Israel's God and afraid of what effect rebuilding His Temple may have on their kingdom's interest. Therefore, they asked the new king of Persia to determine if, in fact, King Cyrus had issued a decree allowing them to rebuild the house of God.

The search discovered a  scroll in “Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media” (6:1, 2)  (Your translation may say Achmetha or Ecbatana.)  Ecbatana was the royal city (capital) of the Medes and Persians and the summer home of Cyrus and his successors.  Obviously, Cyrus’ decree could not be located in Babylon and a more extensive search was required in Ecbatana, over 400 miles away. The protracted search allowed the Israelites a period of time unhindered by their enemy's opposition. With “the eye of their God” on them, the work continued (5:5). When the scroll was discovered, it was found that the “large stones” which had piqued Tattenai’s curiosities (5:8), were even expressly authorized by Cyrus. (Cyrus’ decree was rediscovered in modern times. In the late 1800’s a clay cylinder, which historians term the Cyrus Cylinder, was discovered under Babylonian ruins. The writing on the cylinder confirmed what Scripture says, particularly that Cyrus had a policy of returning exiled people and restoring their temples).

Following the discovery of the ancient decree,  King Darius, was not reticent in his commands - “now then … stay away from there. Do not interfere … Let [them] rebuild this house of God” (6:6, 7). Darius' motivation was not necessarily kindness toward the Israelites, but mostly, selfishness: "so that they may offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the lives of the king and his sons" (6:10). (When you believe in numerous gods, you'll take help from any of them.) Moreover, he decreed, "concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of that house of God: the full cost is to be paid to those people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the Euphrates River, and that without interruption(6:8).  Now that is quite a reversal! Not only did Darius command that the work continue according to Cyrus’ decree, Darius also directed that the Israelite's work be financed with Tattenai’s own funds!  Indeed, O mighty mountain, what are you? (Zech 4:7).     

​Tattenai would need no further motivation to follow Darius’ orders "with all diligence" (v. 13) than the drastic punishment the king decreed against those who disobeyed him,  “if anyone defies this edict, a beam is to be pulled from their house and they are to be impaled on it. And for this crime their house is to be made a pile of rubble” (v. 11). This was apparently a common, though drastic, punishment in the ancient Middle East (Dan. 2:5, Est. 2:23); therefore, the Persian governor certainly knew it was not an empty threat. Tattenai reversed his attitude quickly, even if it came about only because of the king's threats. It was, however, a reversal nonetheless!

Even though Darius and Tattenai were motivated to assist the Israelites out of selfish intent, Ezra made it clear that Israel was victorious because “God turned the heart of the king" (6:22). These reversals were brought about because God's hand was on the people, just as He had promised through His prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Amazingly, the Temple was completed four years later on “the third day of Adar,” (v. 15).

2.  Obedience. Though the house of the Lord was completed because God's hand was guiding it, our author makes numerous mentions of Israel's obedience: First, he told us the Israelites “finished building according to the command” of God (v. 14), they set the priest and the Levites in God’s service “as it is written in the books of Moses” (v. 18), they celebrated Passover on the 14th day of the first month as God directed (v. 19), they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days (v. 22), also just as God commanded.


Though Israel had been unfaithful by putting aside God’s call on their lives, and even though He punished them accordingly, the people turned their hearts back to Him in obedience. Our author makes clear what He began showing us in Chapter 5, our choices make a difference. When the people walked in obedience, God was faithful to provide all they needed for success. 

Because "the sons of Israel" were faithful to obey God’s commands, "all those who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land" (6:21) turned their hearts to God as well. “This is a crucial verse for correcting the impression one might gain from Ezra 4 of a bitterly exclusive party… in reality we find that only the self-excluded were unwelcome. The convert found an open door, as Rahab and Ruth had done” (Kidner). The people’s obedience encouraged the faithfulness of their neighbor, and not only that, their neighbor was now welcomed to participate in the joy of the Lord at His Temple.

3.  Joy. God’s joy is a main theme in this chapter. When the chapter began, we are anticipating the outcome of Darius’ search. How will things work out for the Israelites this time? Certainly, their enemies anticipated continued opposition and yet another standstill, but God had a different plan in mind. When God reversed the enemy’s schemes, the Israelites "celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy" (6:16). With joy, the Israelites were finally able to celebrate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread at God’s Temple (6:22). The people celebrated  “with joy because the Lord had made them happy” (22). What began with doubt and uncertainty, ended with joy and happiness because God’s desire is that His people find their greatest joy in the fulfillment of His plans and purposes.  

God’s people always have much to celebrate at any Passover; however, these Israelites were singularly motivated this particular Spring season to celebrate with joy. God had redeemed them, once again, from a foreign land. He had saved them from the heavy hand of their enemy, once again. He had rescued them from their self-centered disobedience and confirmed once again that He had chosen them as His people and He had not equivocated in that choice.  They witnessed, once again, the mercy of the God of reversals and personally experienced His faithfulness.  God promised His people redemption from bondage and restoration of their relationship, and with great joy, they celebrated all that the Lord had done. 

4. Why sacrifice 12 goats? If you remember from the Introduction section, only two of the tribes of Israel continued worshiping God at His Temple in Jerusalem (hundreds of years before their exile). The other ten tribes rebelled and set up a golden calf to worship in Samaria. Those (northern) tribes were conquered by the Assyrians and soon were absorbed into their culture. The two tribes in Jerusalem that were later conquered by Babylon are the tribes that Cyrus allowed to return home. (Obviously, many members of these two tribes did not return because they, too, were absorbed into the culture of their enemy, Babylon). Nonetheless, when these exiles returned to worship God at the first Passover Feast back in Jerusalem, they sacrificed 12 goats "corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel," not 2. Why?

The exiles knew “the nation had suffered as a whole for its collective sin” (Adeney) and therefore offered a sacrifice for the entire nation. The worshippers atoned for their sins; however, in offering 12 goats, they also acknowledged that God entered into a covenant with the entire nation. They are attesting to God's faithfulness for they knew His plan was not for the restoration of two tribes, but for all His people. Ultimately, we know His desire is for the restoration of  His entire creation. This act of atonement sets the stage for the rest of the book. Chapter six is the climactic dividing point; the rest of Ezra's book will no longer be about the restoration of a temple, but the restoration of the people.


At the beginning of this book, God stirred the heart of King Cyrus to issue his decree, in chapter six, He changed the heart of King Darius to bless the Israelites. At the beginning of his narrative, Ezra told us God stirred the hearts of the people to return to Jerusalem, and at this dividing point, God reversed the people’s hearts to obedience. In the beginning, the people celebrated with shouts of joy as the foundation of the Temple was laid; at the end, we witnessed the joy-filled celebration at the dedication of the completed Temple. Ezra also bookends this first section of his book with celebrations. In the beginning, they celebrated Yom Kippur, the day set aside to atone for the sins of the past year.   As this section ends, the people celebrate Passover, the celebration of God’s great mercy found in His forgiveness and redemption. From the beginning of chapter one to the end of chapter 6, our author has made one thing abundantly clear: God's providential care has been the guiding force behind every action.

God redeemed His people and set them on a journey of restoration. They veered off the path to attend to self-centered plans because they lost their confidence in God. Nonetheless, God never relented in calling His people to restoration. Bringing this portion of his book to an end, Ezra reminds us,  from beginning to end, everything was at God’s initiative; it’s always grace. When the people finally allowed God to strengthen their hands, they completed His Work. And, through God’s grace, in the fulfillment of His promises, the Lord “caused them to rejoice” (v. 22). They found joy in allowing God to fulfill His purposes through them.


Primary Message: God has set in motion, from the beginning of His creation, the restoration of all things. When we are obedient to His word of the Lord and follow Him faithfully, He is eager to restore our joy. God's joy changes us and it changes the world around us as our lives become a testament to a faithful and merciful God who redeems, restores, and reverses. 




We don’t have to wonder how these Israelites would have responded to Tattenai’s intimidation had Haggai and Zechariah not been sent by God. We saw precisely how they responded in chapter four; they gave in; they quit.  This time, however, they stood up to their enemy and continued working because they found their confidence in God and His promises, not, as Zechariah was quick to remind Zerubbabel, in their own might or strength (Zech 4:6). 

This contrast begs the question, which builders are we? Are we like the original group that, when met with opposition, quickly gave up hope and let go of their calling? Could you hear yourself repeating their excuses, placing blame on God’s timing and not your own lack of persevering faith? Or maybe we would be more like this group in chapter six? Would we have placed our confidence in God’s promises and waited on Him to handle the battle? Would we be people who believe, even when all the forces of evil seem to be raging war against us, that God can use whatever or whomever comes against us for our good, that He will even reverse the enemy’s schemes to bring us blessings?

One thing is certain; whether we have set it in our heart to obey God’s Word or to advance our personal kingdoms, God’s divine will in redemption and restoration proceeds. Our choice is whether we will journey and work alongside Him in the restoration of the world or whether we will give in to the struggles often inherent in following after God. We might search for joy, peace, or fulfillment in things of lesser importance because they come with little or no opposition. However, those things will never satisfy - not for long anyway. We will always find that eternal joy will only be found in standing alongside God in His purposes. 

When Ezra gave us the date of the Temple's completion, that was not just a random factoid. The temple was completed on the third day of the month of Adar, the twelfth month in the Jewish calendar.  The Talmud (a collection of ancient Jewish teachings) says, “When Adar enters, joy increases,” or "When God enters a situation, He turns it for Israel’s joy."  The rabbis say this because Esther’s story of divine reversals was completed in the month of Adar. However, it also arises from the interpretation of one of Zechariah’s prophecies we didn't review earlier.

Zechariah repeats “the word of the Lord says” sixteen times in the eighth chapter of his prophecies, each time promising extraordinary blessings. God promised Zerubbabel and all the people that He would return to Zion and then Jerusalem will be known as the “City of Truth” because He will dwell there (Zech. 8:3).  He promised that the people would grow old, living full lives of purpose and dignity (8:4). He promised the city will be “filled with boys and girls playing in its streets” (8:5) and exiles that he would bring from the east and west (8:7).  Though enemies destroyed their peace, God promised “the seed of peace” (8:10-12).  (8:13). You shall be a blessing, God promised, “so let your hands be strong.” God’s reversals would be so great that men would “grasp the garment of a Jew” (8:23) and beg to travel with him to Jerusalem to participate in what God was doing there. And why? Because "I have not relented," God promised. 

God has still not relented; His promise of a restored creation is still His promise. Zechariah’s prophecies address, ultimately, the Messiah’s reign when He restores the earth to the glory of Eden at the end of days. When our enemy attacks our emotions, when discouragement, frustration, disappointment, fear, anger, or doubt make us think the world is against us, when we are convinced there is a bulls-eye on our back, remember, God sees the end from the beginning. When we lose our perspective and think the world is heading downstream at sonic speed, God’s promises remind us that He has a plan for a divine reversal. He has already seen the fulfillment of every promise, we just need to let our hands remain strong and trust His plan. 

But these promises are not only for some time in eternity. God promises us redemption, restoration, and reversals today. When you are overwhelmed with the feeling that God’s love story for you has become nothing but a tragedy of epic proportions, remember, that God's plan is established "with joy, because the Lord had made [us] happy" (6:22).


We've said God is a God of second chance and that is because He is a God of divine reversals. He can change anything or anyone to work His purposes in your life. He only asks that we follow Him in obedience and allow Him to work out our happiness. Don't settle for anything less than all God has planned for your life. Even if you've stalled in your progress of growth and obedience, God's plans have not changed. Allow Him to guide you once again and watch as He leads you to great joy. As His joy becomes your strength for the tasks set before you, find even greater joy as others grasp your garment and ask if they can follow you to God! Never doubt that God's plan for your life is true, everlasting, and complete joy in Him. Let that encourage you to complete the work before you as well.

For Ezra had firmly resolved to study the Law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. Ezra 7:10

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