The Word Made Fresh
1Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was their sovereign. 2Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak determined to rebuild the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God helped them.
3But Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the Euphrates, along with Shethar-Bozenai and other officials, came to them and said, “Who gave you permission to rebuild this temple? 4We also demand to know who is in charge of rebuilding it?”
5But God was watching over the Jewish elders, and they were not stopped until a report reached Darius and his answer was returned in a letter.
6Here is the text of the letter Tattenai and Shethar-Bozenai and their retinue sent to king Darius: 7“To Darius the king, peace. 8Please know that we went to the province of Judah to inspect the house of the great God. It is being built of large hewn stones, with timbers supporting the walls. The work is being ably accomplished. 9We spoke to their leaders and asked them who had given permission to rebuild this house. 10We also asked their names so that we might provide you with a list of those involved. 11This is what they said: ‘We serve the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that had been erected many years ago by a great king of Israel. 12But our ancestors made the God of heaven angry, and they were given over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, a Chaldean who demolished this building and carried the people away to Babylonia. 13But King Cyrus of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, decreed that the house be rebuilt. 14Not only that, but the gold and silver basins Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem and placed in the temple of Babylon, King Cyrus removed from there and had them sent to the man Sheshbazzar who had been appointed governor. 15Cyrus told him to replace these vessels in the temple in Jerusalem and rebuild the temple on its original site. 16Then this man Sheshbazzar laid the foundations of the temple of God in Jerusalem, and it has been under construction since then, but is not yet completed.’ 17So now, if the king agrees, have the royal archives in Babylon searched to see if such a decree was in fact issued by King Cyrus, ordering the rebuilding of this temple of God in Jerusalem. May the king let us know his decision in the matter.”
1-2: The prophets Haggai and Zechariah stirred up the people and the will was generated to ignore the order to stop working on the temple (see especially Haggai 1). The prophets are taking an active role in leading, side by side with the acknowledged political and religious leaders, Zerubbabel (Sheshbazaar) and Jeshua.
3-5: The governor of the region, Tattenai, questions them about the authority to rebuild the temple. They even ask for names, but they don’t force them to stop. Instead, they send a letter to the new emperor, Darius, and await his reply.
6-17: Here is the letter Tattenai sends to Darius. It is a fascinating study in oriental courtesy and court proceedings. Notice that Zerubbabel’s Persian name is used here, Sheshbazzar (see the note on 1:8), and notice also that the request is to search the archives for a decree issued by Cyrus, not Artaxerxes. In this they are being very clever.
Things have changed a lot over the seventy years that the Jews lived in captivity in Babylon. All of what was once Judah and Israel is now part of what is referred to as the “province beyond the River,” the River, of course, being the Euphrates. At one time David and Solomon had ruled over all the land between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates but gradually bits of it were lost to the eastern powers until even Israel and Judah were now part of the kingdom of Babylon. When God decides to teach us a lesson, God teaches us a lesson!