“The prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them” (vv. 1–2).
Although Zerubbabel, the Persian-appointed governor of Judah, and the Jews who went back with him to the Holy Land after Cyrus the Great released them from exile started work on the temple right away, the rebuilding soon ceased (3:1–4:5, 24). Other peoples in the Persian Empire did not want the Jews to establish a secure foothold in their land, so they harassed the Jews in order to get them to stop working on the sanctuary. The rebuilding stopped around 536 BC, while Cyrus was still emperor, and did not resume until about 520 BC, when Darius I was on the throne.
Before we look at the resumption of the work on the temple, note that Ezra 4:6–23 includes references to Kings Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) and Artaxerxes I, who reigned after Darius I. Since Ezra 4:24 picks up the narrative of what happened during the reign of Darius, we see that most of Ezra 4 has been placed out of order chronologically. The author, who might have been Ezra himself, did this to stress the ongoing opposition that the Jews faced while they were governed by the Persian Empire. Not only was the rebuilding of the temple opposed but also the rebuilding of the city itself. We will read more about this in the book of Nehemiah. The Jewish leaders Ezra and Nehemiah came to Judah during the reign of Artaxerxes I.
Today’s passage tells us that Zerubbabel and the Jews returned to the work of rebuilding the temple because of the prophetic exhortations of Haggai and Zechariah (5:1–2). These are the same prophets who wrote the books of Haggai and Zechariah. Haggai’s work, in particular, focuses on his encouragement of the temple’s rebuilding. Zechariah’s book is filled with calls for repentance and apocalyptic visions of the future of God’s people, showing us again that though the Jews were back in their land, their lack of repentance meant that the full blessings attending the return from exile would be delayed.
This time, “Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River” and others asked the Jews who authorized them to rebuild the temple (vv. 3–5). Tattenai was a Persian official who had jurisdiction over Zerubbabel and the province of Judah as well as Syria. The Jews committed themselves to keep on rebuilding until they heard back from Emperor Darius, for Tattenai wrote him, looking for proof that the work was approved (vv. 6–17). Importantly, the eye of God was upon His people (v. 5). They continued working because He was protecting them as they restored the temple.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
The returned exiles continued the work God gave them because they were convinced that His eye was on them. As the Lord’s people today, we can likewise be confident that the Lord’s eye is on us. He will see through to the end the work He has given us, guarding us until His purpose for us has been completed. Let this assurance give us confidence this day to accomplish the mission God has for us.