Ezra 4 SHUTTING THE TEMPLE BUILDING PROJECT DOWN.

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Opposition to the Rebuilding of the Temple

INTRODUCTION TO EZRA 4

As the exiles rebuild they were approached by their enemies who volunteered to help them with their project.  But Zerubbabel and the leaders told them that they had neither part nor lot in the matter.  These same people did everything possible to stop the work.  First they tried to frighten them and then tried bribery.  This went on during the administration of Cyrus and Darius.  Later after Cyrus is dead and Xerxes came to the throne the enemies tried to get the new king to shut the project down.  We are told that the letter was in Aramaic language and the king responded by shutting the job down.  The work had stopped and would not resume for the next sixteen years.

EXPOSITION TO EZRA 4

Opposition to the Rebuilding of the Temple

 1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel,

Esarhaddon ruled Syria from BC 681-669.  After conquering Israel he removed its inhabitants and transported them to an area beyond the Euphrates, he then repopulated the land with foreigners who in turn intermarried with the Jews and this half-bread become known as the Samaritans.

2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

The Samaritans claimed to worship the same God as Israel but their religion was a mixture of heathenism and Judaism.

3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”

Under the hypocrisy pretense of wanting to help build the temple Zerubbabel will have no part of their help.  He knew that the motive was to destroy the work.

4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.

Perhaps with threats to cut off their supplies and threatening to send lawyers to the kings court.   

5 They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.

They began a campaign of false accusation and scare tactics.  They sent their lawyers to the king and lobbied him for support.

Later Opposition Under Xerxes and Artaxerxes

6 At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

The present King Darius died BC486 and now his son Ahasuerus comes to the throne in Persia BC 485-465.  The enemies write a letter to Ahasuerus (same king as the book of Esther) but nothing was done at this time.

7 And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.

Artaxerxes BC 464-424 who succeeded his father Xerxes receives a complaint from the Samaritans alleging that the Jews would rebel.

8 Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows:

This letter is designed to bring political pressure on the Jews. 

9 Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary, together with the rest of their associates—the judges and officials over the men from Tripolis, Persia, Erech and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa,

This letter states that the other countries are in full agreement with the contents of the letter. 

10 and the other people whom the great and honorable Ashurbanipal  deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates.

This letter was a smear tactic to undermine the building project and shut off all funds from Persia.  The letter supposes to represent all the provinces east of the Euphrates.  Mention is made of Asnapper who was known by another name (Ashurbanipal).

11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)
       To King Artaxerxes,
       From your servants, the men of Trans-Euphrates:

The term servants really mean that they were government officials ruling over a province in the Persian Empire.

12 The king should know that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.

They tell the king that the track record of the Jews is rebellious and that he can expect the same when the walls and foundations are finished.

13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and the royal revenues will suffer.

The enemies contend that this city was known for its rebellion and they wanted the king to issue a mandate to stop the work.  According to this verse the walls were being set up.  This is not the city walls which were built under Nehemiah but the temple walls.

14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king,

This letter is filled with rhetoric and is designed to bring action from the king against the work. 

15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place of rebellion from ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed.

The letter suggests that the king take into account the past track record of these Jews and look at the official historical records.

16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.

The letter warns the king that the tax he is receiving from this territory is in jeopardy and that control of all territory east of the Euphrates would be lost.  This letter urges the king to put a stop to the building project immediately.

17 The king sent this reply:
To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates:
Greetings.

Rehum and his associates were waiting for a reply.

18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence.

The king replies to the letter which had been read to him.

19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition.

The allegations made by the Samaritans were confirmed by official records.  Here are some of the revolts that were probably looked at by the king’s staff.  Re-revolt of Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedikiah.  2 Kings 24:1-20.  The report was serious enough to move the king to action.

20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them.

Artaxerxes was heir to the territory that was formerly ruled over by the Babylonians and this was a super power or world empire.  He takes a hard look at the David-Solomon Empire and can readily see that this new settlement in Jerusalem might aspire to the same greatness.

21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order.

This project was red tagged—a cease and desist order is issued.

22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?

The king and his advisors realize that this could be a detriment to the Persian rule and therefore order that the work be discontinued. 

23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.

They came with enough show of force and an official order from Persia to stop the work.

24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

The king’s letter gave the enemy the impetus to enforce the king’s edict.  So they came to Jerusalem with enough show of force to stop all work on the walls of the temple.  This project will be shut down for the next 15 years.

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Ezra 1 GOD STIRS THE HEART OF CYRUS

Cyrus allows the exiles to return—this kingdom stretched all the way from India to Ethiopia. The first year of his reign was BC 538. The Lord fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah and stirred the heart of Cyrus to issue a public notice and it was posted in all 127 provinces. The notice begins by saying that God was behind the project and that he was acting in his behalf. He empties the museum and crates up the entire artifact and lets Ezra take it back to its rightful owner. Then God stirred the hearts of priests, Levites, and tribal leaders to pack for moving. Cyrus was a “hands on king” and orders his treasurer to turn over to Sheshbazzar (the new governor appointed by the king) all 5400 items. Keep reading for more details as I explore this book verse by verse chapter by chapter.

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Ezra 2 RETURNING TO THEIR HOMELAND.

This chapter will list the family names of the exiles who returned from Babylon. Remember that they were slaves in Babylon and after the war were taken to Persia and now are allowed to return to the land of their ancestors.
Three families had lost their genealogical records so until they had God’s approval was not allowed to officiate in priestly duties. A total of 49,897 people, including servants and singers return to their homeland of Israel. You are now invited to join with me in a verse by verse exposition.

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Ezra 3 DREAMS THAT FUELED THEIR PASSION.

It was the dreams that fueled the passion of the exiles.  This book shows us that God will supply the desire as he moves in our heart.  This chapter begins with building an altar according to the instruction in the Law of Moses.  It was built on the old site and sacrifices were offered.  They also observed the festival of tabernacles.  All of this occurred before the foundation of the temple was laid.  They hired masons and carpenters from Tyre to help in preparing and transporting materials for the temple.  The work force had supervisors which were under the direction of Jeshua the General Foreman.  They dug the footers and laid the foundation stones and upon completion of the foundation a religious gathering occurred and a band played music—singers sang—it was a joyous occasion—and shouting could be heard in a far distance.

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Ezra 4 SHUTTING THE TEMPLE BUILDING PROJECT DOWN.

As the exiles rebuild they were approached by their enemies who volunteered to help them with their project. But Zerubbabel and the leaders told them that they had neither part nor lot in the matter. These same people did everything possible to stop the work. First they tried to frighten them and then tried bribery. This went on during the administration of Cyrus and Darius. Later after Cyrus is dead and Xerxes came to the throne the enemies tried to get the new king to shut the project down. We are told that the letter was in Aramaic language and the king responded by shutting the job down. The work had stopped and would not resume for the next sixteen years.

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Ezra 5 A DECREE TO STOP BUILDING THE TEMPLE

This chapter introduces us to Haggai and Zechariah two of the prophets of that era.  Zerubbabel the Governor of Judea re-starts the building project which had been stopped years earlier.  However, Tattenai (a regional Governor of Trans-Euphrates in the Persian empire {there was 20 such Governors which had control over the 127 provinces of the empire} also called Satraps.)  This regional Governor and his staff pay a visit to Jerusalem and did not like what they saw.  Their regional report was sent to Darius with a request to look up the original decree and issue a ruling to block all efforts to rebuild the temple.  A full examination of the letter is reserved for the commentary.

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Ezra 6 . DISCOVERING THE ORIGINAL DECREE.

At Ecbatana in the fortress a copy of the original decree was found in the archives. All the specs were in the original decree including height and width. It was to be built on the original site and the royal treasury of Persia was to pay all expenses and the museum pieces were to be returned. So, Darius sent the following official letter to Tattenai: Stay away—Do not disturb—keep your mouth shut—allow the work to proceed. You must pay all construction costs from taxes collected in your province, supply all sacrifices plus wheat, salt, wine, and olive oil fro daily needs. Any violations of my decree will result in beatings, and confiscation of property. Darius issued the decree and it must be obeyed with all diligence. This commentary will illuminate the text and move you to be an Ezra to someone.

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Ezra 7 A NATIONAL PASSION FOR THE WORD

Dramatic change is about to occur—the crowd is electrified—Ezra is weeping—confessing their national sins and begging for forgiveness. The fire of revival can be felt from priest to peasant. They had never heard such a passionate preacher. He loses no time in getting to the point. He opens the old book and the sweet flow of the love of God and his word flows like a river. There was a passion for God and a hunger for getting right with the Lord. May God stir our hearts today for a national response to have the fervor and emotion that would transport us into a spiritual ecstasy and rapture like that of the Protestant Reformation. May God lift us out of our apathy, indifference and coldness. Pray for God to awake us.

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Ezra 8 CAMPING AT THE AHAVA CANAL

They are on their 900 mile journey to the homeland of their fathers when the roster was looked at and Ezra saw that no Levites were among them. Ezra realized that the worship would be hamstrung without these men. So, they remained camping at Ahava Canal for 3 days while Ezra sent some of his staff to Iddo in Casiphia to help find some Levites. They prayed and fasted for a safe journey which would take a little more than 3 months. God heard their prayer. Twelve leaders from among the priests were in charge of the safe arrival of silver and gold etc. They were to guard it with their life. On the 8th. of April BC 458 they broke camp and started the long journey from the Ahava Canal, upon arrival they rested 3 days and on the 4th. day deposited the valuables in the temple and entrusted it with those in charge. The exiles sacrificed burnt offerings and a copy of the king’s decrees was delivered to Governors in Trans-Euphrates, upon reading the decree these Governors then cooperated by supplying the aforementioned materials. The commentary section will provide additional information.

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Ezra’s 9 EZRA LAYS THE SCRIPTURES ON THEM

Some of the Israelites had intermarried with the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. So the holy race was being polluted with the detestable practices of the heathen and to make matters worse, the officials and leaders are some of the worst offenders. Ezra flies into a rage, he is appalled, enraged, incensed, furious and irate. Ezra realized that these priests and leaders are not fit to associate with the common folk. He lays the scripture on them and then sat down appalled till the evening sacrifice. At 3 O’clock he stood up, his clothes were torn and he lifted his hands in prayer and said he was ashamed, he said that their sins were piled higher than their heads that their guilt had reached to heaven. Ezra recounts God’s grace in their history and claims that they have polluted the land. He claims that they are an escaped remnant and that none of them could face God in such a condition. He resented what was happening like a new broom in an old mess. The answer to Ezra’s prayer will come in the next chapter.

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Ezra 10 BOILING WITH INDIGNATION.

Ezra prayed, wept, confessed and was in an ecstasy of rage.  He resented what was happening like a new broom in an old mess.  Boiling with indignation he threw himself on the ground and a group came and wept with him.  Shecaniah suggested the following plan:  Make a covenant with God and then divorce the heathen women.  He encourages Ezra to take courage and that all is not lost.  So Ezra stood up and made them swear with a solemn oath that they would keep the law of God.  A proclamation was issued for all exiles to come to Jerusalem.  Three days later on the 19th. Of December sitting or standing in a soaking rain they confessed their sins and promised to separate themselves from the pagan women.  However, this required some time for the judicial system to hear the cases and issue judgment.  The plan was followed and beginning on December 29th. Court was in session and concluded by March 27th. Priests were named—gatekeepers were named—everyone guilty had his name published.  Without an Ezra the nation would have repeated their sinful excesses.  Pray that God will send us an Ezra!

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