The Word Made Fresh
1When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple for the LORD God of Israel, 2they confronted Zerubbabel and the family heads. “Let us help you build,” they said. “We worship the same God as you and we have been sacrificing to the LORD ever since King Esar-Haddon of Assyria brought us to settle here.
3Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the family heads of Israel replied, “You have nothing to do with building a temple to our God. We will do that ourselves, as King Cyrus of Persia has commissioned us.”
4Then those people set about discouraging them and made them afraid to build. 5They bribed officials to oppose their building plans all during the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, until King Darius of Persia began his reign. 6Then when Xerxes began his reign, they brought accusations against the people of Judah and Jerusalem. 7And during Artaxerxes’ reign Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel and their supporters wrote an official complaint in Aramaic against them.
8Also, Rehum, who was a royal attendant, and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against them to King Artaxerxes. 9Rehum and Shimshai and their associates – judges, ambassadors, officials, Persians, people of Erech, Babylonians, people of Susa in Elam, 10and all the other people Osnappar had deported to the cities and towns of Samaria and around the province beyond the River, wrote the letter, 11and here is a copy of it:
“To King Artaxerxes: Your servants in the province beyond the Euphrates send their greeting. 12Let it be known to the king that the Jews whom you sent to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that evil, rebellious city, repairing the foundations and rebuilding the walls. 13Let the king understand that if this city is rebuilt and encircled by walls, they will not remit taxes, customs or tolls to the royal treasury. 14But because we share some responsibility to the palace and do not wish to see the king dishonored, we have sent this to inform the king, 15and ask that a search be made in the records of the kings who went before you. You will discover in those records the rebellious nature of this city against kings and provinces, and that trouble was stirred up there from long ago. That is why this city was destroyed.16We wish to make clear to the king that, if this city is rebuilt and its walls restored you will then rule nothing in the province beyond the Euphrates.
17King Artaxerxes sent this reply: “To Rehum the royal ambassador and Shimshai the recorder and their associates in Samaria and throughout the province beyond the Euphrates; Greetings. 18The letter you sent us has been translated and read to me. 19I asked for some research to be made and have discovered that this city has fomented uprisings against kings from long ago, and that rebellion and resistance have often come from there. 20Jerusalem has had powerful kings whose rule extended over all the province beyond the Euphrates, with taxes, customs and tolls paid to them. 21Therefore, order these people to cease rebuilding the city until I have issued an order. 22Don’t put this matter off, or the damage could be hurtful to the king.”
23When king Artaxerxes’ letter was read to Rehum and Shimshai the royal recorder and their associates, they hurried to Jerusalem to forcefully make the Jews cease from their work. 24Then the work on God’s temple in Jerusalem ceased until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.
1-3: An entourage from around Samaria comes to offer help to rebuild the temple, but is rebuffed by Jeshua and Zerubbabel. Years before, when the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria, the Assyrians resettled the territory with people from other conquered areas. In order to please the “god of the land,” Esar-Haddon, king of Assyria, ordered that one of the priests of Israel be sent there to teach them to worship the local god (2 Kings 17:24-28). However, the folks in the south do not recognize priests from the north because when the northern tribes seceded from the house of David and set up the kingdom of Israel with Jeroboam as king, Jeroboam appointed priests who were not even Levites, let alone descendants of Aaron (1 Kings 12:31), and they worshiped other gods besides the LORD. Zerubbabel and Jeshua do not want their efforts in building a house for the LORD to be thus contaminated.
4-5: The “people of the land,” as they are called, begin to try to sabotage the building efforts of Zerubbabel and Jeshua.
6: Ahasuerus succeeds Cyrus, and the enemies of the Jews, led by Rehum and Shimshai, write letters to him to discredit the leadership in Jerusalem.
7-16: Artaxerxes succeeds Ahasuerus, and the folks in Samaria write him a letter in which they say all kinds of terrible things about Jerusalem. The funny thing is their charges are pretty much true. By the way, the word “Jews” has its first appearance in the Bible in verse twelve.
17-22: Artaxerxes has the royal archives searched and learns that sure enough, Jerusalem has regularly refused to cooperate with its invaders and its conquerors. You just can’t depend on them to knuckle under. So, he tells Rehum and Shimshai to issue an order for Zerubbabel et al to cease and desist.
23-24: The northerners, Rehum and Shimshai et al, hurry to Jerusalem and force them to stop working on the temple. But kings come and go, and soon a new Persian king, Darius, rises to power.
In those days gods were thought to be local, and so when people settled in a new place they would learn about the god of that place and worship that god. It is therefore no surprise that the people the Assyrians transplanted to Samaria when they conquered the northern kingdom of Israel have been sacrificing to what they consider to be the God of that place, and they had been also bringing sacrifices to Jerusalem, seeking the good graces of the god or gods that ruled there. Israel’s concept of the LORD God, who is with them wherever they are, is really unique for their time.