Chapter 4:17-5:2 (ESV) - The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?”
Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Now 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.
Question to consider: How were Zerubbabel and Jeshua an example to the people of Israel?
Have you ever believed that you were led by the Lord to do something only to have it be derailed by something seemingly beyond your control? I know I can definitely relate to this scenario. The Israelites expressed joy and gratitude that the Lord had brought them back into the land, and upon building an altar for sacrifices and laying the foundation of the temple, all of their hope turned to discouragement.
When those who tried to sabotage their work from the inside failed, they sought an external remedy by convincing king Artaxerxes that the work in Jerusalem was a threat to his kingdom. After doing a quick search on the claim that Jerusalem had a history of being a “rebellious and wicked city”, Artaxerxes thought it best to halt construction until he could determine whether rebellion and wickedness would continue. While it is true that Israel had a history of being rebellious and wicked against God, the accusation in the letter instead framed their rebellion and wickedness as actions against the surrounding nations.
Rehum and Shimshai could have just read the decree from Artaxerxes to stop the construction, but they chose to back it up with a show of force. The result is that the rebuilding of the city ground to a halt. Personally, I find the events in chapters 4-6 confusing because they don’t exactly appear in chronological order. King Darius ruled after Cyrus but before Ahasuerus (Xerxes). Artaxerxes came later.
When Ezra went back to describing king Darius, it was a reference to another pause in construction that had happened years before under Xerxes in the building of the temple. The temple construction halted for fourteen years before God finally sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to get them back on track. Ultimately, the people resumed construction because the decree of God was more important than the decree of the king. While we may be used to historical accounts being given in chronological order, sometimes scripture orders events to make a particular point. In this case, it would seem that the point was that the entire rebuilding process was met with continued discouragement and setbacks which reaffirmed the promise from Gabriel to Daniel that the rebuilding would occur during times of trouble, but that ultimately God’s promises would come to pass.
We live in a similar time in which defining what is good based on God’s decrees directly contradicts that which is called good by society. The world believes we are being rebellious and wicked when we hold to God’s decrees instead of those of popular culture. This is where we can be thankful that God has provided us His unchanging word. The morals and language of culture changes at such a rapid pace, it can be difficult to understand and navigate. The Bible was written in languages that are not commonly used today so their interpretation is fixed, and we can gain proper understanding by studying the original context. This can be helpful in discerning good and evil today. Like Zerubbabel and Jeshua, we should strive to uphold the decrees of God rather than those of the world.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for being above the kings of this world and for sending Your armies to protect us while fulfilling Your commands. May we fear and love You so that the discouragements of this world have no hold over us. Amen.