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©Kris Gerbrandt

Chapter 5:3-17 (ESV)

Posted on October 13, 2023  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 5:3-17 (ESV) - At the same time Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them and spoke to them thus: “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?” They also asked them this: “What are the names of the men who are building this building?” But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it.

This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and his associates, the governors who were in the province Beyond the River, sent to Darius the king. They sent him a report, in which was written as follows: “To Darius the king, all peace. Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. Then we asked those elders and spoke to them thus: ‘Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?’ We also asked them their names, for your information, that we might write down the names of their leaders. And this was their reply to us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia. However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. And the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem and brought into the temple of Babylon, these Cyrus the king took out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; and he said to him, “Take these vessels, go and put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its site.” Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and from that time until now it has been in building, and it is not yet finished.’ Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And let the king send us his pleasure in this matter.”

Question to consider: Do you think the letter from Tattenai was a good or a bad thing? Why?

Yesterday I brought up the fact that the mention of Artaxerxes in chapter 4 was confusing because Artaxerxes I ruled after Xerxes I and Darius I so it could have been describing a separate letter halting construction on the city just like there had been a letter halting construction on the temple. I pointed out that the two instances may have been addressed in parallel to emphasize the difficulties Israel had in carrying out the decree of God.

While this is one possibility, a second is that the one who is called Artaxerxes (and Ahasuerus) in chapter 4 could be another name for one the pagans called Cambyses II who reigned from 529 to 522 BC. One who took this position was Matthew Henry, “some think that [Cyrus] reigned but three years, others seven, and then either died or gave up that part of his government, in which his successor was Ahasuerus, called also Artaxerxes, supposed to be the same that in heathen authors is called Cambyses, who had never taken such cognizance of the despised Jews as to concern himself for them, nor had he that knowledge of the God of Israel which his predecessor had.” (from Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible) If true, this would definitely reconcile the timeline discrepancy, and the reigns would then look like this: Cyrus II “the Great” 550-529 BC, Cambyses II 529-522 BC, Darius I 522-486 BC.

However this played out, an inquiry by a neighboring governor beyond the Jordan named Tattenai came after Zerubbabel and Jeshua the high priest had begun rebuilding the temple— ignoring the decree they received to stop construction several years before because they had received the word of the Lord given to the prophets, Zechariah and Haggai, that He would protect them in their task. Tattenai wrote a letter to King Darius describing their actions and the reasons for them.

While Cyrus had recognized God as the God of heaven, and had attributed their captivity to the power of Nebuchadnezzar, the truth came out in this letter. They weren’t merely building an earthly dwelling for the God of heaven but considered Him the God of heaven and earth, and they attributed their captivity to His judgment against them instead of the power of Nebuchadnezzar. 

It’s hard to know whether Tattenai wrote this letter to Darius as a friend or foe of Israel, but it at least gave Darius the information about their building project being blessed by Cyrus so he could verify that they were not acting against the Persians. Unlike Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe who gave false information to keep Israel from building the temple and city, Tattenai at least allowed the truth to be revealed which should always be our prayer.


Dear heavenly Father, when we face injustice and difficulty in this world, we ask that You help the truth to prevail. May it be our goal to always seek the truth regardless of whether it personally benefits us. Amen.