The enemies of the descendants of Judah and Benjamin heard that they had returned from the exile

Chapter 4

v1 The enemies of the *descendants of Judah and Benjamin heard that they had returned from the *exile. Their enemies heard that they were building a *temple for the *LORD the God of Israel. v2 The enemies came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families. They said, ‘Let us help you to build. We *worship your God, even as you do. We have given *sacrifices to your God since the time of Esarhaddon the king of Assyria who brought us here.’ v3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered them. ‘You have no part with us in the work to build a *temple for our God. We will build it ourselves for the *LORD the God of Israel. That is what King Cyrus, the king of Persia, ordered us.’

Verses 1-3 The people who lived near Judah were the enemies of the *Jews. They did not want the *Jews to live in Judah again. So they tried to stop the work on the *temple. At first, they pretended that they wanted to help the *Jews to build the *temple. They said that they *worshipped the real God. This was only partly true. These people *worshipped other gods as well (2 Kings 17:24-41). These people would have encouraged the *Jews to *worship other gods too. God had sent the *ancestors of the *Jews into *exile because they had not obeyed him. Their *ancestors had *worshipped and served other gods. So it was important that the *Jews were careful not to listen to their enemies.

So the leaders of the *Jews were quite right to refuse the offer of help. They knew that these other people were their enemies. These other people did not really want to help to build the *temple. In fact, they wanted to stop the work. So these people were not just opposing the *Jews. They were also opposing God.

Through all history, people have opposed God’s plans. This is not just a human attitude. The devil always opposes God’s work. And there have always been people who have been willing to do the devil’s work for him.

At the time of Zerubbabel, God’s plan was that the *Jews would establish a strong nation in their own country. But they would not be a strong nation unless they served God. So the construction of the *temple was essential for the future of the country. In fact, it was not just important for that one country. God’s plan was to use the *Jews in order to show his kindness to people from every nation (Genesis 12:3). In time, Jesus would be born a *Jew.

v4 Then the other people in the country tried to make the people from Judah weak. They made the people from Judah afraid to build. v5 The people in the country paid people to speak against the people from Judah. They tried to stop the plans of the people from Judah. This happened all through the rule of Cyrus king of Persia. It even happened until the rule of Darius king of Persia.

Verses 4-5 The enemies of the *Jews were not pleased when the *Jews refused their offer of help. Their plan had not worked. So they had to find another plan to stop the work.

They tried to make the *Jews afraid to build. They even paid people to try to stop the work. They did this for many years. In fact, the *Jews did not complete the construction of the *temple for about 20 more years. The work would not be complete until the rule of King Darius of Persia.

From verse 6 to verse 23, Ezra describes later events when people opposed the reconstruction of Jerusalem. He continues his account of the work to build the new *temple in verse 24.

v6 At the beginning of the rule of Xerxes, these people wrote a letter. They accused the people who lived in Jerusalem and Judah.

v7 And Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of their companions wrote to Artaxerxes at the time when he was king of Persia. They wrote their letter in the letters and language from Aram.

v8 Rehum the chief official and Shimshai the writer wrote a letter to Artaxerxes the king. They wrote to oppose Jerusalem. This what the letter said. v9 Rehum the chief official, Shimshai the writer and the rest of their companions wrote the letter. These other people were the judges and the many different officials who ruled over the people. They ruled over the people from Tripolis, Persia, Erech and Babylonia, and the *Elamites from Susa. v10 There were also other people whom the great and noble Ashurbanipal had sent away. He had made these people go to live in the city called Samaria and the district beyond the Euphrates river.

Verses 6-10 Even after the *Jews had built the *temple, their enemies still opposed them. In the rest of this chapter, Ezra records what happened many years later. The *Jews started to build their capital city called Jerusalem again. And again their enemies tried to stop them. The enemies of the *Jews wrote letters to the kings who ruled after Darius. They wrote to King Xerxes. Later they wrote letters to King Artaxerxes.

v11 This is a copy of the letter that they sent. ‘To King Artaxerxes. This is from your servants, the men who live in the district beyond the Euphrates river. v12 The king should know about the *Jews who have left you to come to us. They have come to Jerusalem and they are building that city. It is a wicked city and it is not loyal to the king. They are building the walls again and they are repairing the base.v13 There is something else that the king should know. The people will build the city and repair the walls. Then they will not pay any of their taxes. Then the royal income will reduce. v14 The king looks after us. This will make the king poorer. And it is not right for us to see that. That is why we are sending this message to inform the king. v15 Then you can order people to search the records of the kings who ruled before you. You will find in the records that this is not a loyal city. It causes trouble to kings and to the districts. People have plotted revolutions there since long ago. This is why previous kings destroyed the city. v16 We are telling the king what will happen. The people will build the city and they will repair the walls. Then the king will no longer have any property in the district beyond the Euphrates river.’

Verses 11-16 Ezra recorded what these people wrote in one of their letters to King Artaxerxes.

They told the king how loyal they were. They pretended that they only cared about the king’s benefit. They said that the *Jews were not loyal to foreign kings. They said that the people in Jerusalem would build their city again. Then the people in Jerusalem would stop paying taxes. They asked the king to search in the records. They told the king what he would find in the records. He would find that Jerusalem was not a loyal city.

            Many of the ancient records from this time still exist. The officials wrote them on clay. (Clay is a type of earth. It becomes hard if someone bakes it.) People have found some 120 000 such records. The British Museum has a large collection of them.

v17 The king sent an answer. ‘I send greetings to Rehum the chief official and to Shimshai the writer. I send greetings to the rest of their companions who live in Samaria and elsewhere beyond the Euphrates river. v18 My servants have read to me clearly the letter that you sent to us. v19 And I ordered that people search the records. They discovered that this city has not been loyal to kings. People have often plotted revolutions there. v20 Powerful kings in Jerusalem have ruled over the whole district beyond the Euphrates river. And people paid all kinds of taxes to them. v21 Now order these men to stop work. They must not build this city again until I give the order. v22 Be sure not to neglect this matter. This danger to the *kingdom must not increase.’

Verses 17-22 The king read the letter and his officials searched the records. What was in the first letter (verse 11-16) was true. Many years before, the *Jews had opposed foreign kings. We can read in the Bible about some of these events (2 Kings 18:7; 2 Kings 24:1). But those events happened very many years earlier. The *Jews who lived during the rule of Artaxerxes were not a strong nation. Only a small number of people had returned to Judah from *exile. They did not have an army so they were not really a danger to the king. And they had no desire to oppose King Artaxerxes’s rule. They were loyal to him.

Also, the *Jews who went into *exile were very loyal to their rulers. In fact, *Jews often became important officials of the foreign kings who ruled them. And those kings trusted them greatly. We can read about that in the Books of Esther, Nehemiah and Daniel.

However, the king ordered the work to stop. But he did say that he could give the order for the work to start again. About 12 years later, Artaxerxes did allow Nehemiah to lead more *Jews back to Jerusalem to build the city again. We can read about that in the Book of Nehemiah.

v23 Then people read to Rehum, Shimshai the writer and their companions the copy of the letter from King Artaxerxes. So they went immediately to the *Jews in Jerusalem and forced them to stop work.

Verse 23 When the enemies of the *Jews received the reply from the king, they told the *Jews about it. They forced the *Jews to stop work.

v24 Then the work to build the house of God in Jerusalem stopped. It stopped until the second year during the rule of King Darius who was the king of Persia.

Verse 24 In this verse, Ezra returns to his earlier story (which he left at verse 5). He continues his account of the work to build the *temple. The work stopped because the *Jews were afraid of their enemies. The work did not start again until the rule of King Darius. That was about 16 years later.