“And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.” (Ezra 6:15)
Cyrus had given the command to rebuild the city and temple during his first year reigning over Babylon. Six years later his son Cambyses assumed the throne taking the name Ahasuerus. Seven years later he was killed and about six months after his death, Darius assumed the throne. The temple was finally completed six years after his reign began, and nearly twenty years after Cyrus gave the order to build it.
“And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy, And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.” (Ezra 6:16-17)
For eighty years, there had been no temple, although the Jews had offered sacrifices and practiced the Jewish religion since their return. To finally have a permanent place to worship as a reminder of their faith was a tremendous blessing best understood by churches that have rented temporary quarters for a time. Compared to what had been offered at the dedication of the original, it was pretty small, but for them it was a tremendous sacrifice.
Undoubtedly, the fact that the celebration coincided with the celebration of Purim, reminding them of the way God spared them from death by Haman’s decree made it even more exciting.
“And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.” (Ezra 6:18)
Twenty years before, it had been decided some of the priests could not assume their duties until a high priest was dedicated according to Ezra 2:61-63. “And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim.” Until the temple was completed, there was no place for them to serve as there was no way to perform many of rituals and duties.
With the temple complete and a high priest to serve as the mediator between God and man, They could finally perform all the various activities as prescribed by the law.
“And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month. For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.” (Ezra 6:19-20)
Just a month after dedicating the temple and celebrating Purim, the Jews celebrated Passover at the proper time. Finally they were able to have the Levites and priests perform that part of their duties as well after more than eighty years without doing it. It was a special time of remembering how much God had done for them.
“And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat, And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:21-22)
The Jews who’d returned from Babylon, and the ones who were still there as well as some of the neighboring people who had turned to God then kept the feast of unleavened bread celebrating the seven days between their leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, when God prevented the Egyptian army from catching them. It was a time of great rejoicing. The Assyrians had set out to completely eliminate the nation almost two hundred years before, and now the Persian kings ruled Assyria and had helped to rebuild the temple.
According to historians, based on Persian, Greek and Egyptian records, Darius reigned thirty six years, which when coupled with the seven years of Ahasuerus’ reign and six years of Cyrus’ reign accounts for the seven weeks or forty nine years of Daniel 9:25. “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times."
Because of Darius’ sponsorship, the Jews lived in relative peace until his death. After his death, anti-Jewish forces again gained power, with the result that completion of the wall of Jerusalem faced a lot of opposition, fulfilling the prophecy, “…the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.”
After Darius’ death we have some disagreement between historians. Jewish and Egyptians records do not reference any king between Darius and Artaxerxes. Persian records are such that it is unclear whether there was a separate king named Xerxes or not in between, but Greek historians record a king named Xerxes between them, although Herodotus lists him as from a different empire. Herodotus, Ctesias, and Aristotle give conflicting accounts of Artaxerxes’ ascension to power, giving rise to questions whether Xerxes I actually existed, or if he did whether he may not have been confused with the king of another country at the time. Modern historians disagree about Xerxes I as a result, making it unclear as to the exact time or Darius’ death. We do know that Artaxerxes came to power about 465 BC. If the Greek historians are correct, Darius died about 486 BC, but if they are in error. He died about 465-466 BC. It is a relatively minor discrepancy.
Daniel 11:2 declares, “And now will I show thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.” According to the prophecy, there would only be four Persian kings. Believing the prophecy to be from God, and knowing Ezra was present when these events happened, I tend to think the biblical record is more accurate than that of some historians over a hundred years later in another country. I have no trouble believing that the Greek historians could make such a mistake.