Our reading today resumes the narrative of the book of Ezra. The returning exiles are rebuilding the Temple, but come up against some opposition. Adversaries come to Zerubbabel the governor and ask to help build the Temple (4:1-2). These would have been people brought to the Northern Kingdom after Assyria had defeated them. These would eventually become the Samaritans we read about in the New Testament. The governor and the High Priest and the elders of Judah deny that they worship the same God (v. 3). They are careful to point out that they are doing what Cyrus has commanded.
So the Samaritans try scare tactics (v. 4) and even bribe the counselors of the governor to try and stop the Temple from being built (v. 5). This lasted all the way until the reign of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), to whom the Samaritans write a letter protesting the building of the Temple (v. 6). We are told that this letter was written in Aramaic (v. 7). From 4:8 through 6:18, the only manuscripts that exist are in Aramaic.
In the letter, these men warn the king that if Israel were to complete rebuilding the city (which at this point they were not doing), they would rebel against Persia (vv. 12-13). This will mean less tax money for the Persian government. In verse 14, these men sweet talk the king, telling him that they recognize all they have is from him, and that they seek his honor. They feign to this earthly king what is due only to the King of Heaven. They then tell the king to search out the history of Judah to see that they have rebelled before (which they have – v. 15 – see 2 Chr 36:13).
In response, the king says that he has found that Judah has rebelled before (v. 19). In fact, they themselves have been conquerors of the lands around them (v. 20). So he commands that the work stop until he can decide what to do (v. 21). The Samaritans very eagerly bring the news to Jerusalem and stop the work (v. 23). We see that Ahasuerus never made any decision, as the work was stopped until Darius II came to power. This would have been a 14 year span.
In chapter 5, we see that God sent word by His prophets that the building should resume (5:1 – we will see some of these prophecies when we consider the books of Haggai and Zechariah). So the building resumes (v. 2). Their enemies are none too pleased and demand to know who told them they could resume building (v. 4). But the Jews know Who told them to build, so they build (v. 5).
So another letter is sent, this time to king Darius (v. 6). We see the answer that the Jews gave to these men (vv. 11-17). They ask the king to search out the history of Judah again, only this time they ask that he looks for the decree from Cyrus that commanded them to build the Temple. So Darius searched (6:1) and found the decree (vv. 2-5). He tells the enemies of Judah to back off and let the Temple be built (vv. 6-7). But he doesn’t stop there. He demands that the Jews be given whatever they need for the building of the Temple and for worship (vv. 8-10). He also forbids any more attempts to stop the building (vv. 11-12). Indeed, God called His people to do something, and He sovereignly saw that it would be done.
And we see that God spoke to His people through His prophets during the building (v. 14). And after four years, the Temple is completed (v. 15). The Temple is dedicated with a great celebration (vv. 16-17). Compare this to the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and you will see how humble a celebration this was (see 2 Chr 7:1-10). Yet the returned exiles are committed to obedience to God’s Law (v. 18).
In verse 19 (where the manuscript returns to Hebrew), we see the first Passover to be celebrated in almost 70 years. This hints at the return from Babylon as a type of second Exodus. The Feast of Unleavened bread is then kept (v. 22). It appears that everything is back to normal – God had restored them to the land. But there is still work to be done…