We have here, I. The decree of Cyrus for the building of the temple repeated. To this the Samaritans referred because the Jews pleaded it, and perhaps hoped it would not be found, and then their plea would be over-ruled and a stop put to their work. Search was ordered to be made for it among the records; for, it seems, the tribes had not taken care to provide themselves with an authentic copy of it, which might have stood them in good stead, but they must appeal to the original. It was looked for in Babylon (Ezra 6:1), where Cyrus was when he signed it. But, when it was not found there, Darius did not make that a pretence to conclude that therefore there was no such decree, and thereupon to give judgment against the Jews; but it is probable, having himself heard that such a decree was certainly made, he ordered the rolls in other places to be searched, and at length it was found at Achmetha, in the province of the Medes, Ezra 6:2. Perhaps some that durst not destroy it, yet hid it there, out of ill will to the Jews, that they might lose the benefit of it. But Providence so ordered that it came to light; and it is here inserted, Ezra 6:3-5. 1. Here is a warrant for the building of the temple: Let the house of God at Jerusalem, yea, let that house be built (so it may be read), within such and such dimensions, and with such and such materials. 2. A warrant for the taking of the expenses of the building out of the king’s revenue, Ezra 6:4. We do not find that they had received what was here ordered them, the face of things at court being soon changed. 3. A warrant for the restoring of the vessels and utensils of the temple, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away (Ezra 6:5), with an order that the priests, the Lord’s ministers, should return them all to their places in the house of God.
II. The confirmation of it by a decree of Darius, grounded upon it and in pursuance of it.
1. The decree of Darius is very explicit and satisfactory.
(1.) He forbids his officers to do any thing in opposition to the building of the temple. The manner of expression intimates that he knew they had a mind to hinder it: Be you far hence (Ezra 6:6); let the work of this house of God alone, Ezra 6:7. Thus was the wrath of the enemy made to praise God and the remainder thereof did he restrain.
(2.) He orders them out of his own revenue to assist the builders with money, [1.] For carrying on the building, Ezra 6:8. Herein he pursues the example of Cyrus, Ezra 6:4. [2.] For maintaining the sacrifices there when it was built, Ezra 6:9. He ordered that they should be supplied with every thing they wanted both for burnt-offerings and meat-offerings. He was content it should be a rent-charge upon his revenue, and ordered it to be paid every day, and this without fail, that they might offer sacrifices and prayers with them (for the patriarchs, when they offered sacrifice, called on the name of the Lord, so did Samuel, Elijah, and others) for the life (that is, the happiness and prosperity) of the king and his sons, Ezra 6:10. See here how he gives honour, First, To Israel’s God, whom he calls once and again the God of heaven. Secondly, To his ministers, in ordering his commissioners to give out supplies for the temple service at the appointment of the priests. Those that thought to control them must now be, in this matter, at their command. It was a new thing for God’s priests to have such an interest in the public money. Thirdly, To prayer: That they may pray for the life of the king. He knew they were a praying people, 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, and to engage them. 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.
(3.) He enforces his decree with a penalty (Ezra 6:11): “Let none either oppose the work and service of the temple or withhold the supports granted to it by the crown upon pain of death. If any alter this decree, let him be (hanged before his own door as we say), hanged upon a beam of his own house, and, as an execrable man, let his house be made a dunghill.”
(4.) He entails a divine curse upon all those kings and people that should ever have any hand in the destruction of this house, Ezra 6:12. What he would not do himself for the protection of the temple he desired that God, to whom vengeance belongs, would do. This bespeaks him zealous in the cause; and though this temple was, at length, most justly destroyed by the righteous hand of God, yet perhaps the Romans, who were the instruments of that destruction, felt the effects of this curse, for that empire sensibly declined ever after.
2. From all this we learn, (1.) That the heart of kings is in the hand of God, and he turns it which way soever he pleases; what they are he makes them to be, for he is King of kings. (2.) That when God’s time has come for the accomplishing of his gracious purposes concerning his church he will raise up instruments to promote them from whom such good service was not expected. The earth sometimes helps the woman (Rev. 12:16), and those are made use of for the defence of religion who have little religion themselves. (3.) That what is intended for the prejudice of the church has often, by the overruling providence of God, been made serviceable to it, Phil. 1:12. The enemies of the Jews, in appealing to Darius, hoped to get an order to suppress them, but, instead of that, they got an order to supply them. Thus out of the eater comes forth meat. The apocryphal Esdras (or Ezra), Book I. ch. iii. and iv., gives another account of this decree in favour of the Jews, that Darius had vowed that if ever he came to the kingdom he would build the temple at Jerusalem, and that Zerubbabel, who was one of his attendants (whereas it is plain here that he was now at Jerusalem), for making an ingenious discourse before him on that subject (Great is the truth and will prevail), was told to ask what recompence he would, and asked only for this order, in pursuance of the king’s vow.