Ezra 4: 1 – 24
Make promise, keep a promise
4 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, 5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. 6 In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. 7 In the days of Artaxerxes also, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabel, and the rest of their companions wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the letter was written in Aramaic script and translated into the Aramaic language. 8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes in this fashion: 9 From Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions—representatives of the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the people of Persia and Erech and Babylon and Shushan, the Dehavites, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnapper took captive and settled in the cities of Samaria and the remainder beyond the River—and so forth. 11 (This is a copy of the letter that they sent him.) To King Artaxerxes from your servants, the men of the region beyond the River, and so forth: 12 Let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem, and are building the rebellious and evil city, and are finishing its walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Let it now be known to the king that, if this city is built and the walls completed, they will not pay tax, tribute, or custom, and the king’s treasury will be diminished. 14 Now because we receive support from the palace, it was not proper for us to see the king’s dishonor; therefore, we have sent and informed the king, 15 that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. And you will find in the book of the records and know that this city is a rebellious city, harmful to kings and provinces, and that they have incited sedition within the city in former times, for which cause this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, the result will be that you will have no dominion beyond the River. 17 The king sent an answer: To Rehum the commander, to Shimshai the scribe, to the rest of their companions who dwell in Samaria, and to the remainder beyond the River: Peace, and so forth. 18 The letter which you sent to us has been clearly read before me. 19 And I gave the command, and a search has been made, and it was found that this city in former times has revolted against kings, and rebellion and sedition have been fostered in it. 20 There have also been mighty kings over Jerusalem, who have ruled over all the region beyond the River; and tax, tribute, and custom were paid to them. 21 Now give the command to make these men cease, that this city may not be built until the command is given by me. 22 Take heed now that you do not fail to do this. Why should damage increase to the hurt of the kings? 23 Now when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem against the Jews, and by force of arms made them cease. 24 Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Do you have an easy time making promises and a hard time keeping them? The definition of a promise “a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified; a legally binding declaration that gives the person to whom it is make the right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act.”
If you have difficulty following through on even the smallest or seemingly minor promises to others, it might be time to focus on creating a process that allows you to always keep your promises. Here are a few ideas to help you do this.
Before you make the promise make sure you have the time and skills to follow through on the promise. To do this, you should listen to the request and consider:
1. Do I understand what I am promising to do? It’s important to confirm that you understand the other person’s request, This will ensure you know what you are committing to, which will allow you to better fulfill the promise.
2. Can I fulfill the promise within the specified time? Think about if you have other plans that conflict with what you are promising. Make sure you can commit the time needed to fulfill the promise.
3. What do I need to fulfill the promise, and can I access these needs/skills? Analyze your existing skills and determine if they are a match for the request or commitment.
4. Write the promise down and set a reminder. Rather than simply telling the other person you are going to do something or verbally agreeing to do a task, get it in writing. Put it down on your calendar, mark it on your to do list, and set a daily reminder in your phone so there is no way you will forget the promise. Putting the promise in writing shows initiative to the other party, and ensures you cannot use the “oh, I forgot” excuse when the deadline for the promise approaches.
5. Create a concrete plan to fulfill the promise. Even the smallest promises can be neglected or unfulfilled if you do not set aside the time in your day to complete the promise and are equipped with all the tools and skills needed to keep the promise. Draw up a step by step plan so you don’t fall short on your commitment.
6. Set aside one hour the night before the assignment is due to proofread the draft and polish it into a final draft. You can then be assured you can meet the deadline and fulfill your promise.
7. Communicate with the other party. If you start to realize there are obstacles or challenges that may cause you to miss the agreed upon deadline, let the other person know ahead of time. This will give the other person, or invested parties, time to adjust their expectations or timelines on their end and to work with you to help you try to keep your promise. Being honest about your inability to keep a promise, as agreed, before the deadline has passed shows you respect the other person’s time and are trying to act with integrity. Doing this will ensure your relationship with the other person remains healthy and open, whether it’s the relationship between you and your partner or a family member, or the relationship between you and an employer or authority figure.
When they learned that work was beginning on the building of the Temple, the syncretistic Yahwists round about, who worshipped Baal and Asherah, and other gods alongside YHWH, sought to become a part of the enterprise. Had they been permitted to do so they would no doubt have taken it over and the result would have been a syncretistic Yahwism which included all the elements which were displeasing to God, and which would have included the introduction of priests who were not of the line of Aaron. The question was not a race one, but a religious one. And it was vital. The future of Yahwism was at stake. It is a reminder to us that we should beware of whom we align ourselves with.
4 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel,
Those who approached with the request to have a part in the building of the Temple would not have appeared to be enemies and would probably not have seen themselves as enemies. Their offer was no doubt genuine, although it unquestionably had a hidden agenda. They did not want to become Yahwists of a type represented by the returnees. They wanted a comfortable Yahwism of the kind that they had long enjoyed, one that made few demands and that allowed them their pagan festivities and their revels in the mountains. It was only when their offer was rejected that they outwardly became enemies. We discern things clearly when the scripture highlights that from the start their position was one of opposition to all that the returnees now held dear, the uniqueness of YHWH, and the importance of abandoning idolatry. For these were the two things that they would have undermined.
If you do not give into other people’s demands bitter enmity ensues, for the passage goes on to demonstrate how bitter that antipathy was, and how long it lasted, and how great the steps were that they were prepared to take in order to undermine the returnees. And this can only lie in the fact that they saw the purity of the faith of the returnees as a constant rebuke to their own ways. Had they been able to bring the returnees down to their level they would have been happy. But the constancy of the returnees was a continuing rebuke to them, and it brought home to them shallowness of what they themselves believed in. And that they could not stomach.
2 they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
The opposition was mainly headed up by the leaders of the region of Samaria, as their argument reveals. Politically it was therefore powerful opposition, for up to this point of time they had had responsibility for Judah in its position within the governorship of Samaria, and possibly did still have such a responsibility, although having to defer to the leaders of Judah in local matters to do with the returnees, something which probably irked them. As appointed rulers they would also have had great influence with the kings of Persia on local matters. So it must have been tempting to yield to their request and curry their favor.
The argument seemed reasonable enough, but, of course, veiled the truth. They claimed to seek God as the returnees did. But it was not so. Alongside YHWH they worshipped other gods, and the priests were illegitimate from a covenant point of view and were undoubtedly pluralistic (2 Kings 17.24-41). Furthermore, their move may well have been a political one. Partial control of the Temple and its worship would have ensured their supremacy in local matters.
3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
The reply of the leadership of the returnees (Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers) was straight and direct, and theologically necessary. To have acceded would have destroyed all that they were seeking to do in re-establishing the true covenant of YHWH. Note that the decision was a cumulative one. It was made by Zerubbabel and Jeshua in consultation with ‘the heads of the fathers’, that is with those who had authority among the different families represented among the returnees. And it was decisive. It pointed out that it was the returnees who had been given authority by Cyrus to build the Temple of ‘the God of Israel’, an important political point, for to have ignored it could have put them in the wrong with the Persian authorities. After all Cyrus had laid down strict regulations about its building (6.3-5) and had given to them the Temple vessels in recognition of what they were to do. Politically therefore it was their responsibility. It had nothing to do with anyone else. They had been given the responsibility, and they, and they alone would ensure its fulfilment. However, there can be no question but that they also recognised the dangers involved in including outsiders in the project, outsiders whose ideas of the God of Israel, Yahweh, were very different from their own. Had they acceded the Temple and its worship would once again have become things of compromise.
4 Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, 5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
This refusal to allow their participation in the building of the Temple did not please ‘the people of the land’ that is those people who had been in Samaria and Judah before the arrival of the returnees, thus a wider group than just the people of Samaria. No doubt stirred up by the people of Samaria they all recognised that the attitude of the returnees excluded them from Temple worship on their own terms. It was not that they were totally excluded. The returnees would unquestionably not have refused to acknowledge those who truly sought YHWH in accordance with the Law of Moses, as is made clear in 6.21. What they refused was those who sought to worship Him outside that Law, in accordance with their own ideas. It was not only the people of Samaria who were worship multiple gods. Such religious acts were widespread, as it had been in the days of Jeremiah (e.g. Jeremiah 7.30-31; 19.4-5; 32.34-35). The purity of the Temple and its worship was therefore the first concern of the returnees.
Thus the people of the land began to ‘weaken the hands’ of those who sought to build. They used all means. They combined the use of violence against them with political trickery. They not only made life difficult for them by direct means such as keeping them in constant fear of attack, and causing trouble for them wherever they could (a few burned fields and attacks on their properties would soon turn their minds to other things), but also hired experts to act with the Persian authorities in order to block the work that was going on. Details of some of these attempts will shortly be outlined, attempts which went far beyond just the question of the Temple, and which continued on until the days of Nehemiah, but they clearly commenced quite early on, although as the writer had no direct information concerning the earliest attempts he does not provide any details of them. What he does seek to demonstrate is that opposition to the returnees was so long lasting, that he was justified in calling them ‘enemies’, and that the returnees were therefore justified in rejecting their offer.
We note that these attempts commenced in the days of Cyrus, ‘all the days of Cyrus’ clearly covering a good part of his reign, and thus initially that we are dealing with a fairly long period before the recommencement of the work on the Temple in the days of Haggai and Zechariah, which occurred in the reign of Darius I. For they went on until that reign. Here we have an explanation of why the work on the Temple ceased for so long. It was largely due to the activities of these adversaries. In the days of Darius, however, the plan of the adversaries backfired, for it resulted in new authorization for the building of the Temple, and financial provision for the purpose (6.6-12).
What follows up to verse 23 goes beyond the question of building the Temple. Our Precious Holy Spirit now wishes to bring out precisely how dangerous these adversaries would in the future prove to be, and how long lasting was their enmity. Their attitude was to be not just a temporary one, but as a constant one, which would grow ever more belligerent, would seek to frustrate all that the returnees tried to do, and would finally result in the intervention of the King of Persia himself. So he takes up the question of their continuing opposition, and ignoring chronology as being of secondary importance he deals with the question of how their opposition would continue long after the building of the Temple.
What He Is here dealing with and explaining is the continuing work of the hired experts who would go on with their activities for a long time, a work which had in view getting the returnees into trouble with the Persian authorities. This process would continue long after the building of the Temple. God’s people were to be allowed no rest. And the writer uses these examples because they were ones of which he had written details. We may presume hat he had no written evidence of earlier attempts. It is an indication of the hand of God at work that these attempts did not frustrate His purposes, although they did no doubt frustrate His suffering people. But one good thing it did do. It kept the returnees firmly to their purpose. There is nothing like opposition for the stiffening of resolve. Tribulation works patient endurance, and patient endurance produces expectancy, and that expectancy will not fail if it causes us to look truly to God (compare Romans 5.2-5).
6 In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
The opposition continued on over a long period. One major attempt to put the returnees in the wrong was made in the reign of Ahasuerus, that is of Xerxes I (486-465 BC), who took Esther as one of his wives. This was at least thirty years after the building of the Temple had been completed. And at that time an accusation was written against the returnees. But it clearly came to nothing.
7 In the days of Artaxerxes also, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabel, and the rest of their companions wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the letter was written in Aramaic script and translated into the Aramaic language.
Another attack was made in the days of Artaxerxes, the king of Persia (464-423 BC), who followed Xerxes I and was in the end the king who sent Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The names of the experts responsible are ‘Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his companions’.
Once again nothing appears to have come of the accusation against the returnees, which appears to have been dropped without any repercussions.
8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes in this fashion:
The third attack was made by Rehum the chancellor (literally ‘lord commander’, high government official) and Shimshai the scribe (secretary). Rehum was probably a high official of a type typical of Persian rule, whose responsibility was to write directly to the king concerning matters that occurred in his area. He now wrote to Artaxerxes laying accusations against Jerusalem, no doubt stirred on by the adversaries spoken of earlier (verse 1), who had manufactured a case against the returnees. Artaxerxes was the king who sent Ezra the Scribe to the assistance of the returnees, and later Nehemiah himself, so he was not anti-Jewish.
9 From Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions—representatives of the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the people of Persia and Erech and Babylon and Shushan, the Dehavites, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnapper took captive and settled in the cities of Samaria and the remainder beyond the River—and so forth.
This would appear to be the preamble to the letter, a kind of official heading describing who were responsible for its contents. It would head up the letter and is typical of Aramaic correspondence at the time.
‘Then.’ The word stands on its own and we might expect it to be followed by a verb like ‘wrote’. It may here, however, simply stand on its own and signify ‘this is the result’ or ‘as follows’.
Those responsible for the letter are then described. The names that follow Rehum and Shimshai are those of peoples who had been transported to the area by the Assyrians. The Assyrians believed that by moving people around they could stop them from establishing roots, and thus becoming a danger. It was continuing Assyrian policy.
‘The Dinaites.’ This can be repointed as meaning ‘the judges’ That would serve to bring out that the opposition was clearly high-powered. ‘And the Apharsathchites’. This may signify ‘the envoys’ or ‘the inspectors. Thus, two important groups of officials would be adding their weight to the letter. It is an indication of how deep and widespread the opposition to the Jews was.
The names that follow are then listed without conjunctions and are the names of peoples. Note among them the ‘Babylonians’ and ‘Elamites’, both well-known from elsewhere. The aim is to bring out the widespread nature of the complainants. This was to be seen as no petty quarrel. All were to be seen as in agreement and concerned for the welfare of the king as his noble subjects. Then comes the sweeping up statement, ‘and the rest of the nations. By this time those ‘nations’ were a real mixture.
11 (This is a copy of the letter that they sent him.) To King Artaxerxes from your servants, the men of the region beyond the River, and so forth:
All the king’s subjects were seen as his ‘servants’ from the greatest to the least, and they want him to know that it is as his ‘servants’ that they are writing. The aim will now be to demonstrate to the king how dangerous the returnees are. We must recognize that the details that we know would not be known to the king. All he would have to go on was past records and the advice passed on to him by these officials who represented a seemingly formidable group.
12 Let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem, and are building the rebellious and evil city, and are finishing its walls and repairing the foundations.
They want the king to realise what ‘the Jews who came up from you’ are doing. ‘The Jews who came up from you’ probably refers to the group who had come with Ezra which would still be at the back of his memory. They wanted him to see this group as a group of rebels who, as soon as they were out of the king’s sight, determined on rebellion. It would not have been so convincing to represent as rebels’ people who had already been there for over fifty years without causing any trouble, but a people stirred up to religious zeal by a formidable person like Ezra was a different matter. The point being made is that these newcomers have immediately set about building and fortifying Jerusalem. (Their charge would have had no teeth if it was the building of the Temple that was in mind).
Note their description of Jerusalem as ‘the rebellious and the bad city’. They wanted it immediately to have a tainted reputation. ‘And have finished the walls and repaired the foundation.’ This was no doubt an exaggeration. The reference to the repair of the foundations, would appear to indicate that the work on the walls was still going on, but they were far from finished, and it was, of course, due to behavior like theirs that the walls were needed. It was they and their associates who threatened the peace of the people of Judah, not the other way around. We can compare with this the dangers from outside attack that Nehemiah would have to face when he rebuilt the walls, even though that was specifically under the authorization of the king.
Their accusations would have been reinforced by the fact that the Persians had been experiencing trouble from the region. Ezra and his party had arrived in 458 BC. In 448 BC Megabyzus, the satrap of the province Beyond the River, raised up a revolt against Persia. If these people who were writing the letter, who may not have been involved in that rebellion, could give the impression that Jerusalem was intending to join in this revolt, it would clearly add emphasis to their letter. There was also trouble in Egypt which had been going on for some years, and was not finally put down until 454 B, four years after the arrival of Ezra. Jerusalem would be known from Babylonian records as often causing trouble in collusion with Egypt. In both cases tribute would have been withheld. Thus to a king ruling far away in Persia, who was uneasy about the region, any seemingly warlike act could have been seen as a danger.
13 Let it now be known to the king that, if this city is built and the walls completed, they will not pay tax, tribute, or custom, and the king’s treasury will be diminished.
They fed the king’s fears by pointing out that if the people of Jerusalem could make themselves secure by completing the defenses, (thereby giving a clear indication that the walls were not yet finished), their next step would be to withhold ‘tribute, customs duties and rent’. And this would obviously be hurtful to the wellbeing and wealth of all future kings. The accumulation of wealth was one of the reasons for establishing an empire.
14 Now because we receive support from the palace, it was not proper for us to see the king’s dishonor; therefore, we have sent and informed the king,
They wanted the king to recognize that they had no ulterior motive for their actions, and that they were writing solely due to their deep sense of loyalty to the king because having partaken of the royal benefits, they had a deep sense of what was owed to the king. To eat of someone’s salt, that is to receive their hospitality, was in ancient times to seal friendship, and give an assurance of peaceful intent. To act dishonorably after partaking of hospitality was deeply frowned on. Thus, the king could be sure that their friendship and loyal support was genuine. Indeed, they wanted him to know, that it was precisely because they had such a deep sense of loyalty to him, that they had written to the king and certified what was going on. Their words were enough to warm the heart. Who could refuse to be grateful for such touching loyalty? It was, of course, mainly pure pretence, but if they had in fact refrained from taking part in a rebellion (see above), it would have added emphasis to their claim.
15 that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. And you will find in the book of the records and know that this city is a rebellious city, harmful to kings and provinces, and that they have incited sedition within the city in former times, for which cause this city was destroyed.
They then unleashed their masterstroke. Let the king examine the ancient records (the records of the kings of Babylon. The Persians saw themselves as continuing the Babylonian empire). He would soon discover that Jerusalem had constantly been a rebellious city and had caused damage to kings and provinces by their activity (especially in association with Egypt), and had been constantly involved in seditious activity. Indeed, that was the very reason why the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed in the first place. And certainly history would have added some weight to their accusations, as three investments of Jerusalem would prove, but there was a huge difference between an established kingdom with its own army and a fierce sense of independence, and the motley group of returnees who were now in Jerusalem and rather had cause to be grateful to the kings of Persia, and were desperately seeking to protect themselves from the violent behavior of the very people who had written the letter. The king, however, was not to know this. All he had to go on was past records, and a recognition of the instability of the region.
16 We inform the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, the result will be that you will have no dominion beyond the River.
The writers then underlined their point with a grim (and ridiculous) warning. If the city was built no one who lived in Beyond The River would be safe. With mighty Jerusalem established the Persian empire might well find itself bereft of the province of Beyond The River. To any who know the facts such an idea was, of course, absurd. It was true that Egypt might well be a threat to the Empire with its struggle for independence. But little Jerusalem with its struggling immigrants was hardly able to affect either. They had no army, no chariots and no trained fighting men. That was why they wanted walls. The king, however, was not to know this.
The king could, of course have discovered all this by extensive enquiry, and perhaps he later did so. But for the present it was a simple matter just to make a quick check of the records and then to forbid the carrying on of the work. And that was what he did. Indeed, the fact that he stopped at that is evidence that he was not over duly concerned, simply being cautious perhaps there be any truth in it (it will be noted that he did not demand the dismantling of what had already been built).
17 The king sent an answer: To Rehum the commander, to Shimshai the scribe, to the rest of their companions who dwell in Samaria, and to the remainder beyond the River: Peace, and so forth. 18 The letter which you sent to us has been clearly read before me. 19 And I gave the command, and a search has been made, and it was found that this city in former times has revolted against kings, and rebellion and sedition have been fostered in it.
We are now given a copy of the king’s reply. This would, of course, have been produced by the recipients as evidence that they were acting on behalf of the king. The reply is addressed to those who had sent the previous letter.
The king confirmed that the letter had been read to him in full and that he had accordingly initiated a search of the records. And he agreed that what they had claimed had been confirmed. Jerusalem had in the past been rebellious and had been involved in sedition against its overlords.
20 There have also been mighty kings over Jerusalem, who have ruled over all the region beyond the River; and tax, tribute, and custom were paid to them.
This picture of a mighty kingdom receiving tribute, customs duties and rent may suggest that in the records was some memory of the great days of David and Solomon, for they alone could have been described as ‘ruling over all of Beyond the River’, and indeed such a memory may have been conveyed by such men as Daniel who were high in the Babylonian, and then the Persian, hierarchy. But it might equally have been a rather exaggerated picture of the reign of kings like Hezekiah and Josiah. Either way the one-time greatness of Jerusalem is brought out. The point behind the statement is that past kings of Jerusalem have indeed been mighty enough to trouble empires, reinforcing the idea of the danger that Jerusalem presented.
21 Now give the command to make these men cease, that this city may not be built until the command is given by me.
So the king called on them to give an order (command) that the builders should cease work so that the city would not be fortified unless and until a decree came from him.
Note that there is no suggestion by the king that what had been built should be pulled down, and fortunately, in view of later events, the order was specifically described as only temporary, with a possibility of it being rescinded by a decree from the king. This may suggest that he was not altogether happy with the story that he had been told and intended that the matter should be investigated further, but, as verse 22 makes clear, he nevertheless wanted his instruction to be carried out swiftly so as to ensure there was no possibility of the king’s revenues being affected.
22 Take heed now that you do not fail to do this. Why should damage increase to the hurt of the kings?
So the king then called on them not to be slack in carrying out his instructions lest damage be caused both to his own treasury, and the treasury of his successors. They were to issue the decree immediately so as to ensure the prevention of what they feared. It will be noted that he made no reference to the use of force, although, of course, he would have expected the decree to be enforced if it was necessary. Thus, they went beyond their remit in using force.
23 Now when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem against the Jews, and by force of arms made them cease.
The recipients of the letter went beyond the king’s command, for as soon as they had heard what the king had instructed they raced to Jerusalem and used violence in order to prevent the work continuing. The impression given is that, rather than issuing an order and seeing if it was carried out, they acted precipitously, probably in great glee. It was clearly a vindictive action. Nehemiah 1.3 may well be indicating that it was at this time that they demolished the wall and burned the gates.
Revealing that the work on the house of God ceased as a result of the activities of their adversaries Chronicles now describes how, as a result of the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah, the work on the Temple recommences, something which disturbs the Persian governor of the area because he is concerned about their use of valuable materials which could be being used for warlike purposes.
24 Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Attention is now drawn to the fact that because of the widespread local opposition of their enemies, the work that had begun on the Temple by laying foundations (3.8-4.1) had come to a full stop. From the indications given we can probably understand why:
1). Part of the problem probably lay in acts of violence perpetrated on the new community to distract them (4.4). This might have included threats, and even attacks, on their houses and families if they left them unprotected; their enemies setting fire to fields of grain, as Samson did in the times of the judges; and even vindictive attacks on the persons of the returnees themselves. All this would involve the returnees in having to take protective measures which could only prevent them from concentrating on building the Temple.
2). Furthermore, as we know, much of the timber had to be obtained from Sidon and Tyre (3.7). This would mean the work coming to a halt for a time, and with everyone against them we can imagine the difficulties that there would be in getting the supplies through. And once the work had halted for a time the initial enthusiasm would inevitably wane, especially as there were more immediate problems to be dealt with
3). The group of counsellors who were hired to present a case against them, may well have made them afraid of what the consequences might be of continuing, with the threat of Persian interference hanging over their heads (4.5; 5.3).
4). There were also the problems of erecting a Temple in the face of continual opposition, violently expressed against those who sought to build (4.4).
5). Added to all this would be their own need to build their own homes and ensure the welfare of their families (Haggai 1.4).
6). Later this situation would be further exacerbated by the local famines which meant that their time was directed elsewhere as they struggled to survive (Haggai 1.6, 9-11).
Taken together these things would have been enough to deter them from making the effort to build the Temple, which in itself was a difficult enough task. It thus took the activity of two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to stir them into action so that they recommenced the work.