Ezra 4 (Good News Translation)
Opposition to the Rebuilding of the Temple
“From this point onwards right to the end of Nehemiah there is conflict. Nothing that is attempted for God will now go unchallenged, and scarcely a tactic be unexplored by the opposition.”
1 The enemies of the people of Judah and Benjamin heard that those who had returned from exile were rebuilding the Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel.2 So they went to see Zerubbabel and the heads of the clans and said, Let us join you in building the Temple. We worship the same God you worship, and we have been offering sacrifices to him ever since Emperor Esarhaddon of Assyria sent us here to live.
These people are Samaritans, from the area of the former northern kingdom of Israel. After Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BCE, many of the Jews of Israel were deported and scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire, never again to return to their homeland. And the Assyrians settled other deported from their homelands into what had been the northern kingdom. The remaining Jews and these new inhabitants cobbled together a new culture which included the worship of God and reverence for the books of Moses. The newly returned Jews refused their help because the Samaritans were seen as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. To the Samaritans, Yahweh was one of many powerful gods. This was a dangerous partnership for the returned exiles.
The antagonism between the peoples was openly displayed well into New Testament times. Jesus, of course, treated the Samaritans with his usual respect: the first person to whom he clearly said, “I am the Christ” was the Samaritan woman at the well, and when a Jewish lawyer asked him to narrow the field by defining just who exactly is my neighbor, Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
3 Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the heads of the clans told them, We don’t need your help to build a temple for the Lord our God. We will build it ourselves, just as Emperor Cyrus of Persia commanded us.
4 Then the people who had been living in the land tried to discourage and frighten the Jews and keep them from building.5 They also bribed Persian government officials to work against them. They kept on doing this throughout the reign of Emperor Cyrus and into the reign of Emperor Darius.
Construction of the second temple was begun in 536 B.C. on the Solomonic foundations leveled a half century earlier by the Babylonians. Not until 516 B.C., the sixth year of the Persian emperor Darius I, was the construction finally completed at the urging of Haggai and Zechariah (6:13-15).
Of the temple and its construction little is known. Unlike the more famous temple structures razed in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70, respectively, the temple begun by Zerubbabel suffered no major hostile destruction but was gradually repaired and reconstructed over a long period. Eventually, it was replaced entirely by Herod’s magnificent but short-lived edifice.
–from the Archaeological Study Bible
6 At the beginning of the reign of Emperor Xerxes, the enemies of the people living in Judah and Jerusalem brought written charges against them.
7 Again in the reign of Emperor Artaxerxes of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and their associates wrote a letter to the emperor. The letter was written in Aramaic
From 4:8 to 6:18 this book is not in Hebrew, but Aramaic, the official language of the Persian Empire.
and was to be translated when read.
8 Also Rehum, the governor, and Shimshai, the secretary of the province, wrote the following letter to Emperor Artaxerxes about Jerusalem:
9 From Rehum, the governor, from Shimshai, secretary of the province, from their associates, the judges, and from all the other officials, who are originally from Erech, Babylon, and Susa in the land of Elam,10 together with the other peoples whom the great and powerful Ashurbanipal moved from their homes and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in West-of-Euphrates Province.
11 This is the text of the letter:
To Emperor Artaxerxes from his servants who live in West-of-Euphrates.
12 We want Your Majesty to know that the Jews who came here from your other territories have settled in Jerusalem and are rebuilding that evil and rebellious city. They have begun to rebuild the walls and will soon finish them.13 Your Majesty, if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, the people will stop paying taxes, and your royal revenues will decrease.14 Now, because we are under obligation to Your Majesty, we do not want to see this happen, and so we suggest 15 that you order a search to be made in the records your ancestors kept. If you do, you will discover that this city has always been rebellious and that from ancient times it has given trouble to kings and to rulers of provinces. Its people have always been hard to govern. This is why the city was destroyed.16 We therefore are convinced that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, Your Majesty will no longer be able to control West-of-Euphrates Province.
Their attack by letter was a skillful combination of truth and lies. It was true that Jerusalem had a sinful past; yet with these returned exiles, it truly was the past and not the present. However, that truth was completely irrelevant because of the great lie – the lie that Jews and the builders of Jerusalem had a rebellious intent.
17 The emperor sent this answer:
To Rehum, the governor, to Shimshai, secretary of the province, and to their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of West-of-Euphrates, greetings.
18 The letter which you sent has been translated and read to me.19 I gave orders for an investigation to be made, and it has indeed been found that from ancient times Jerusalem has revolted against royal authority and that it has been full of rebels and troublemakers.20 Powerful kings have reigned there and have ruled over the entire province of West-of-Euphrates, collecting taxes and revenue.21 Therefore you are to issue orders that those men are to stop rebuilding the city until I give further commands.22 Do this at once, so that no more harm may be done to my interests.
23 As soon as this letter from Emperor Artaxerxes was read to Rehum, Shimshai, and their associates, they hurried to Jerusalem and forced the Jews to stop rebuilding the city.
24 Work on the Temple stopped and remained at a standstill until the second year of the reign of Emperor Darius of Persia.
That is a delay of some 16 years.
What to do, when you cannot do the work you want to do? When the frustration piles up? When the disappointment overwhelms? Scripture suggests singing, and may I add to that suggestion, singing songs of praise and power! Like this one, which has been translated into many languages since it was first composed by Martin Luther in 1529. This is a good hymn to know by heart so you can sing it whenever you need it! HERE is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” sung so wonderfully by the men’s a cappella choir GLAD.