Before discussing the second king, I want to give you some background. Darius, known as Darius the Great, is the king I want to discuss next, but I think it is important to look at the chronology of the kings to get a bigger picture. You will notice on the bulleted list that some of the names are the same and when reading about them, it can be very confusing. This is not all the Persian kings, but the kings that are mentioned in the Bible.
Persian Kings of the Bible
• Cyrus – 539-530 – Isaiah 45, Daniel, Ezra 1-3
• Cambysses (Ahasruerus) – 530-521 – Ezra 4-6
• Pseudo Smerdis (Artaxerxes) – 521 – Ezra 4:7-23
• Darius the Great (Darius) – 521-486 – Ezra 5,6
• Xerxes (Ahasurerus) – 486-465 – Esther 1-10
• Artaxerxes I (Artaxerxes) – 464-423 – Nehemiah 1-13, Ezra 7-10
Ezra chapter 1 talks about Cyrus, the king who made the proclamation for rebuilding the temple.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:1-4
This is the proclamation that goes forth and in Chapter 3 of Ezra the rebuilding begins. However, it does not take too long for opposition to rise up. Ezra chapter 4 reveals letters that were written to both Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:6-7). Now, Ahasuerus was Cyrus’ son, who reigned after him. However, Artaxerxes, who reigned less than one year, was an impostor. Ahasuerus went to Egypt to conquer it and while there, the throne was assumed by an impostor (Artaxerxes), supposedly someone claiming to be the son of Cyrus (Smerdis). The impostor’s reign did not last, and Darius the Great killed him and became king. I point all this out because in Ezra 4, after a letter was written to Artaxerxes (an impostor), the building of the temple was stopped with a decree of Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:23-24).
After the building was stopped, chapter 5 tells us that the prophets, Haggai and Zachariah prophesied to the Jews and the building of the temple began again (Ezra 5:1-2). So, we have this background as to what had been happening and now we are into the reign of Darius. During Daruis’ reign we see a “tipping point” in the rebuilding of the temple.
Again a letter was sent to the king, this time it appears that a wise and careful governor is writing to the king. Let’s looks at that letter and what Darius did in response.
To Darius the king, all peace. Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. Then we asked those elders and spoke to them thus: “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?” We also asked them their names, for your information, that we might write down the names of their leaders. And this was their reply to us: “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia. However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. And the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem and brought into the temple of Babylon, these Cyrus the king took out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; and he said to him, ‘Take these vessels, go and put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its site.’ Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and from that time until now it has been in building, and it is not yet finished.” Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And let the king send us his pleasure in this matter. Ezra 5:7-17
What is so interesting about this letter that contains the history of the rebuilding of the temple to this point, is that governor Tattenai (who wrote the letter to Darius) actually asks the king to look through the archives and find the decree of Cyrus. Chapter 6 tells us that Darius did just that – he searched and found the decree issued by Cyrus. Ezra 6:2-5 tell us that a scroll was found and recounts the words of the decree made by Cyrus. But what is telling about Darius is that he ensures the completion of the temple. Look at his response to the governor.
Let the work on this 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 make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence. Ezra 6:7-12
Darius made a decree to not only leave the Jews alone, but also what was to be done for them. The cost was to be paid from the royal revenue (vs. 8), and whatever was needed was given to them day by day (vs. 9). Also, the king makes it clear since the decree of Cyrus was not fulfilled, what will happen to people attempting to alter his decree – impaled by a beam from his own house, his house made a dunghill and that God would destroy any king or people who come against this decree. Maybe it is just me, but a pagan king asking God to overthrow anyone who comes against his decree seems very strange. Darius was extreme in his resolve to complete the temple. But why? Why did he care about the temple. I think it all goes back to the scroll he found, the decree by Cyrus – a decree by one of the greatest Persian kings of all time that was not fulfilled. Darius looked back to one greater than himself and made sure his words were carried out. He realized a wrong had been done and he was determined to fix the situation permanently. Ezra 4:4 says, “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” This ended with Darius, the temple was completed during the sixth year of his reign (Ezra 6:15).
We desperately need great kings to be wise, to look back to the past – seeking out the wrongs that have occurred and the words of those greater than themselves. This brings forth rebuilding and restoration. In Isaiah 58:12 it says “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;”
In Jeremiah we find these words, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16) Jeremiah was preaching this word to a nation that refused to repent despite impending destruction. With this thought about seeking ancient paths, I want to implore our nation’s leaders to stop and look to the past, look for the ancient paths, the ancient words from men that have gone before them. I am no governor, but like Tattenai I challenge the kings of our land to look through the archives. The following is an excerpt from a proclamation made by President Abraham Lincoln. Stop, look, and listen to his words, our ancient paths.
Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;
And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
Senators, representatives, and governors: listen to ancient words. You can hear Lincoln’s voice resonant in these great words. Listen to one who is greater than you, a monumental figure who gives you wise instruction. Who are we to not worship the most high God? When did we get to be so big as to forget our beginnings? Have we forgotten the God who has made us, blessed us, enriched our land, and provided great abundance? Do not be foolish. God will not be mocked.
The Bible is very clear about what to do in such a dire situation. God is gracious to the repentant. God will relent from his anger if we repent with all our heart. Jeremiah 6:17 says, “Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!” We really need to pay attention to the “sounds” God is giving us. He has and is sounding the trumpet in our ears, trying to get our attention. Will we listen or continue down the path of destruction?
“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”