Ezra 5 – The Construction Is Resumed
A. God helps His people.
1. (1-2) God helps by sending prophets to get the work started again.
Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.
a. Then the prophet Haggai: The words of the prophet Haggai to the community of returned exiles are found in the Old Testament book that bears his name. The heart of his prophecy is communicated in Haggai 1:2-10.
i. “The two prophets who now proclaimed their message in Jerusalem appeared at a time of deep depression. They were not borne on the crest of a wave or a religious revival, as its spokesmen to give it utterance.” (Adeney)
ii. In Haggai 1:2-10 we see that the prophet rebuked the people for their attitude towards the building of the temple. They said, “The time has not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built” (Haggai 1:2). In saying this, the people made their excuse sound spiritual. They couldn’t speak against the idea of building the temple, so they spoke against its timing. “It isn’t God’s timing to rebuild the temple.”
iii. Therefore, the prophet rebuked them with pointed words: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4). The problem was simply wrongly ordered priorities. They were content to let the cause of the LORD suffer at the expense of their comfort. Instead, they should have felt no rest until the work of God was as prosperous as their personal lives, and been as willing to sacrifice for the work of God as they were for their personal comfort and luxury.
iv. Then God spoke to the people through the prophet: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified” (Haggai 1:7-8). God called them to work. Sometimes God’s cause needs work, work that is supported by prayer, not work that is neglected because of pretended “spiritual” service. The people had allowed a delay beyond their control to become a delay of their own choosing.
b. And Zechariah the son of Iddo: Some of Zechariah’s prophecy is also recorded for us in the Book of Zechariah. Haggai’s prophecy was a more direct encouragement to get busy on the work of building the temple; Zechariah’s prophecy was mostly directed to the spiritual condition of the returned exiles.
i. The name Zechariah means “The LORD Remembers,” and is a fitting name for a prophet of restoration. This prophet was called to encourage and mobilize God’s people to accomplish a task that they began, yet lost momentum in completing. He encouraged them indirectly by telling them about God’s care for them and by keeping the presence of the Messiah very much in their minds. He worked with others, notably Haggai, Zerubbabel, and Ezra. He warned them of the consequences of neglecting God’s work and he emphasized that God wants to do a work through His people.
ii. If all we had was Haggai to go by, we might conclude that all God was really interested in was the temple. Zechariah gives the rest of the story, and shows how God is interested in lives, not only buildings.
c. And the prophets of God were with them, helping them: The work of these prophets was effective, and helped the people properly re-order their priorities and resume the building work on the temple (rose up and began to build the house of God). This verse also indicates that their work went beyond the directly prophetic, and that they took a hand in helping with the practical work of building.
i. Darius came to the throne in a time of conflict and struggle. Therefore the Jews in Jerusalem started their work “without receiving any permission from him, and they did this when he was far too busy fighting for his throne to attend to the troubles of a small, distant city.” (Adeney)
2. (3-5) God helps by protecting the work and allowing it to continue.
At the same time Tattenai the governor of the region beyond the River and Shethar-Boznai and their companions came to them and spoke thus to them: “Who has commanded you to build this temple and finish this wall?” Then, accordingly, we told them the names of the men who were constructing this building. But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius. Then a written answer was returned concerning this matter.
a. Tattenai the governor of the region beyond the River: This was the man appointed by the king of Persia to govern the province that included Judea. He and his companions wanted to know why the work of building both the temple and the wall had resumed.
i. “There is a mention of Tattenai’s name (probably) and office (certainly) in a Babylonian record dated 502 B.C. which speaks of ‘Ta-at[-tan-ni] governor of Ebernari’ (i.e., of Beyond the River).” (Kidner)
ii. “Like every spiritual advance, from Abraham’s to the missionary expansion in Acts, this venture began with a word from the Lord. And, in common with the rest, it was quickly tested and threatened.” (Kidner)
iii. Tattenai seems much more reasonable than the Samaritans who opposed the work some 15 years previous to this. This shows us that not all who oppose God’s work do it out of premeditated evil; some do it out of custom and a sense of duty.
b. Then, accordingly, we told them the names of the men: This was recorded by Ezra to demonstrate that there was no hint of rebellion among the returned Jews. In no way were they trying to rebel against the authority of the Persian king.
c. But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease: God’s blessing was upon them, so that the work – resumed under a response to the prophets of God – did not have to stop almost as soon as it started. The work continued, and this blessing was a confirmation of God’s hand on His prophets.
i. “We are not to suppose for a moment that this was something new. That eye had always been upon them, but through the teaching of the prophets, and their rousing call, their consciousness of relationship to God had again been renewed.” (Morgan)
ii. “The eye of their God upon them was better than fortune, and the integrity of the leaders evidently showed through well enough to make any immediate action other than a report seem called for.” (Kidner)
d. Till a report could go to Darius: This was good for two reasons. First, the nature of bureaucracy and the slow postal system meant that the work could continue for some time. Second, they could pray and trust that God would guide King Darius to a favorable decision.
i. “That he should accede to such a request rather than exercise his immediate authority one way or the other, was in itself somewhat remarkable.” (Morgan)
B. The letter to King Darius.
1. (6) The address of the letter.
This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai sent:
The governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai, and his companions, the Persians who were in the region beyond the River, to Darius the king.
a. A copy of the letter that Tattenai sent: As a good administrator, Tattenai not only sent a letter to Darius, he also preserved a copy that made its way into Ezra’s record.
2. (7-17) The message of the letter.
(They sent a letter to him, in which was written thus)
To Darius the king:
Let it be known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the temple of the great God, which is being built with heavy stones, and timber is being laid in the walls; and this work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands.
Then we asked those elders, and spoke thus to them: “Who commanded you to build this temple and to finish these walls?” We also asked them their names to inform you, that we might write the names of the men who were chief among them.
And thus they returned us an answer, saying: “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and completed. But because our fathers provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and carried the people away to Babylon.
However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to build this house of God. Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple that was in Jerusalem and carried into the temple of Babylon—those King Cyrus took from the temple of Babylon, and they were given to one named Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor. And he said to him, ‘Take these articles; go, carry them to the temple site that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its former site.’ Then the same Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem; but from that time even until now it has been under construction, and it is not finished.”
Now therefore, if it seems good to the king, let a search be made in the king’s treasure house, which is there in Babylon, whether it is so that a decree was issued by King Cyrus to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send us his pleasure concerning this matter.
a. Let it be known to the king: In this letter, Tattenai seems to fairly recount the situation from his perspective. Without prejudice or malice, he explained the matter to King Darius.
i. “He seems to have been a mild and judicious man; and to have acted with great prudence and caution, and without any kind of prejudice. The manner in which he represented this to the king is a full proof of this disposition.” (Clarke)
b. Which is being built with heavy stones: The heavy stones perhaps aroused suspicion in Tattenai; they made him wonder if the Jews were building a temple or a fortress.
i. Timber is being laid in the walls: “Courses of timber at intervals, between those of stone or brick, were quite a common constructional feature over a long period in the ancient Near East, and may have originated as a means of strengthening buildings against earthquakes.” (Kidner)
c. Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundation: This leads many to believe that Sheshbazzar is actually another name for Zerubbabel and that Tattenai used this name because it would be more likely to appear in the records that were to be searched.
i. There are other ideas about the identity to Sheshbazzar. “Sheshbazzar may have been viewed as the official Persian ‘governor’ whereas Zerubbabel served as the popular leader. This may be why the Jews mentioned Sheshbazzar here when speaking to the Persian authorities.” (Yamauchi)
d. Let a search be made…whether it is so that a decree was issued by King Cyrus to build this house of God at Jerusalem: Respectfully, Tattenai asked King Darius to research the matter, to determine if the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem was royally sanctioned.
i. “Tattenai, who was now opposing them as they resumed the work, either did not believe that such a decree had ever been promulgated, or considered that it could not be found.” (Morgan)