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Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137 Listen
We're calling our lawyers! (Ezra 4:1-6)
1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;
2 Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.
3 But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.
4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,
5 And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
In Ezra 1-3 (see notes) we saw the return of the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem (535 B.C.) after the Persians overcame the Babylonians. In the spring of their second year, the Jews began rebuilding the temple. Realizing that there was some special significance to this temple-rebuilding project, the ecumenical crowd suddenly takes an interest here in chapter 4. You know, the "all-religions-are-good-if-you're-sincere" crowd - they want to help. Never mind that Jehovah is just one of many gods to them; they love all religions; at least that is what they would have you believe - then and now. These non-Jewish neighbors living alongside the returning Jewish exiles were people who had been imported to Israel by the Assyrians after the fall of Samaria in 721 B.C. They were originally from Mesopotamia and Syria. The account of their importation is found in II Kings 17:24-33 (see notes). So, what do these polytheists do when they are denied a part in rebuilding the JEWISH temple? Well...they do what all "open-minded" liberals do in the name of tolerance; they hire attorneys to stop the temple-rebuilding project. How's that for tolerance? This action legally stops the project for about 14 years - five years under the rule of Persian King Cyrus, seven and a half under Cambyses, seven months under the Pseudo-Smerdis (an impostor who proclaimed to be the brother of Cambyses), and one year under Darius (till the second year of his reign). Let's face it; liberal thinkers have always been trouble makers. Diversity to them is just a ploy to water down the truth! However, throughout these years, there was apparently some work done on the temple despite the resistance.
Note of clarification: There were three kings of Persia named Artaxerxes - I, II and III. Identification of some of these Persian kings is up for dispute, but many think that the Pseudo-Smerdis (above) was the Artaxerxes in the following verses (Artaxerxes I) to whom the letter was written. Darius became king after him.
New king - new restraining orders (Ezra 4:7-24)
7 And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.
8 Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort:
9 Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites,
10 And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnappar brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time.
11 This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time.
12 Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.
13 Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.
14 Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king;
15 That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed.
16 We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.
17 Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time.
18 The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.
19 And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein.
20 There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them.
21 Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.
22 Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?
23 Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.
24 Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The tolerant liberals have managed to keep the project stalled and/or slowed for these many years and through several kings. To some degree, between kings, the work seems to have picked back up despite the stop-work order of years ago. Now there's a new king (Artaxerxes), and the lawyers start back up again; they write a hateful letter against the Jews. In the letter, they assert that the rebuilding of Jerusalem by the Jews will result in Persia's loss of control AND REVENUE in that region. There's nothing like a threat to the pocketbook to get someone's attention. They ask the king to go back into the archives and notice Jerusalem's past reputation, "this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time" (verse 15). As a matter of fact, compare the words of this letter to the rhetoric of Muslims in the Middle East today toward Israel. Fact: Satan will always find people to attempt to thwart the work of God. That's enough for the king. There's nothing like a well-written letter from an attorney. Maybe those attorneys are right! Stop the work! After all, a king's primary job is to keep his job as king. The rules of politics really haven't changed, have they? These neighbors couldn't wait to present their new stop-work order to the Jews. Artaxerxes actually commands that the rebuilding effort cease until he gets back to them with another order...which he never issues.
What does "this side of the river" include?
We find the designation "this side of the river" used several times in the Book of Ezra to describe the land in question. The first occurrence of this phrase is found in I Kings 4:24 (see notes) to describe Solomon's kingdom holdings. The designation "this side of the river" is a reference to the Euphrates River. During Israel's most prosperous years under David, Israel's control extended from the Euphrates, all the way over to the Nile River. As a matter of fact, that's the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:18 (see notes). This designation for the Euphrates is also found in Ezra 4:10-11,16; 5:3,6; 6:13; 8:36; Nehemiah 3:7.
Incidentally, we see a term used in verses 10, 11 and 16 - "this side of the river." See the information box to the right for details regarding that description.
Note: At this point in time, we're still working from the decree issued by Cyrus the Great in Ezra 1:2-4. You will notice in verse 12 that, even though the decree only mentions the rebuilding of the Temple, wall rebuilding was part of the project. We see that again in Ezra 5:4. All of the decrees involved the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem.
The project starts again (Ezra 5:1-5)
1 Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.
2 Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.
3 At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?
4 Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?
5 But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter.
Zerubbabel fires up work on the temple once again. The local attorneys make a call on workers and try to intimidate them. "Who authorized this work? We're telling!" But that didn't stop the work on the temple. You will notice the mention of the roles of two prophets here, Haggai and Zechariah. See the timeline to the top right of this window comparing events found in those two books, or click here to view the document in full-screen mode.
By the way, notice Zerubbabel in verse 2. He's likely the same one found in 1:8 known as Sheshbazzar (his Persian name). He's also the Zorobabel of Matthew 1:12 (see notes).
As a descendant of David's royal line, he played an important part in the rebuilding and return of the exiles. He wasn't considered a king, but more like a governor over Israel. As a matter of fact, we generally speak of the historical temple in 3 different phases: Solomon's temple, Zerubbabel's temple and Herod's temple - the latter two being temple rebuilds.
Another letter to a new king, Darius (Ezra 5:6-17)
6 The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and his companions the Apharsachites, which were on this side the river, sent unto Darius the king:
7 They sent a letter unto him, wherein was written thus; Unto Darius the king, all peace.
8 Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands.
9 Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls?
10 We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were the chief of them.
11 And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up.
12 But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.
13 But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.
14 And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor;
15 And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place.
16 Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.
17 Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king’s treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter.
This time the letter is from the non-Jewish governor over Judah, Tatnai. He's a little more objective about the issue. Here's the question: "Were these Jews authorized by the Persian King Cyrus to rebuild this temple?" Inquiring minds want to know. This new man, Zerubbabel (aka Sheshbazzar), was certainly a threat to Tatnai's authority over the land. It's kind of amusing that Tatnai tried to get the names of those Jewish leaders heading up the temple-rebuild project so he could include their names in his letter, but they apparently declined to cooperate (verses 10-11). All in all, his letter to King Darius appears to be rather objective without any vindictive undertones. Tatnai gets his reply from Darius in chapter 6 (see below).
Sure enough! Cyrus decreed it! (Ezra 6:1-12)
1 Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.
2 And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written:
3 In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits;
4 With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house:
5 And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God.
6 Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:
7 Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.
8 Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.
9 And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:
10 That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.
11 Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.
12 And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.
The Persian governor over Judah, Tatnai, had written a letter back to Darius the king to ask about whether or not the Jews had authority to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Ezra 5:6-17, see above). His letter seemed to have a relatively impartial tone to it, despite the adversaries calling into question the rebuilding project. So, here's the reply from Darius: YES! We researched the records and found that Cyrus did roll out the red carpet for the Jews - even gave them back the furnishings that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple to put back into place. Notice verse 7, "Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place." Wait! There's more! He had also commanded that the project be funded from the royal treasury. The decree had been clear, but the opposition lawyers had tied it up for years. So...what's to keep these lawyers from making an appeal to this ruling? Verse 11 takes care of that. Look at what happens to anyone who makes an appeal to the king's ruling after this, "let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this." That settles it - no more appeals!
Let's dedicate a temple (Ezra 6:13-22)
13 Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.
14 And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
15 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.
16 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,
17 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.
18 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.
19 And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.
20 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.
21 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,
22 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.
Finally - all done and ready to be dedicated, and according to the information in verse 15, it's March 12, 515 B.C., just in time to celebrate the Passover. Just as in the style of the old days under Solomon, we're going to dedicate this temple with all due adherence to those original temple-dedicating customs - sacrifices and everything. In verse 18, we see that they put into place the whole Levite system with their associated temple duties as had been established back in I Chronicles 24 (see notes). Then they had their first passover in the rebuilt temple with the returned exiles (verses 19-21). I should point out here that, while the temple has been rebuilt and the returning Jews are free to worship the One True God there, they are still under Persian domination; they are not an independent nation. That would not be the case again until May 14, 1948 when Israel declared their independence as a nation, an independence that has lasted to this day.
The Jews were exiled, and they wept (Psalm 137)
1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
4 How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?
5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
This is a sad Psalm. It speaks of the time in Israel's history when Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians (586 B.C.) and the inhabitants were exiled to land in modern-day Iraq next to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. That was far from home. This Psalm reflects their discouragement. But that's not all. This Psalm also implicates the Edomites for the pleasure they received in Jerusalem's destruction by the Babylonians. Verses 8-9 are particularly sobering. The Psalmist (obviously one of the exiles) anticipates the day when Babylon will receive the same level of sorrow that they had inflicted on God's people. As I said, it's a sad Psalm.