The exiles that had returned were faced with local officials that were in control of the region, they were all still under Persian rule. These, the enemies of the exiles were contending for power over this “Province beyond the river” which was far enough away for the King to know what was really happening. It was also part of the empire so there was concern about any suggestion of rebellion and the suggestion was “this city from ancient days revolted against kings, and rebellion and sedition has been made in it”. For fifteen years, the work was stopped. Then the Lord began to speak through Haggai, “Consider your ways”. The people had let their priorities slip and Haggai stirs them up to do the work of building God’s house. Are you doing the work?
They Wrote An Accusation
Not everyone that offers to work with you really wants to help your cause. These people who had been living in the land were mostly exiles from other places. It was right for these leaders to decline their help. Here in Ezra 4:6-10 the administrators that had been responsible to the King and everyone that had any position in the land gathered together to oppose the work of these returned exiles. It didn’t matter to them that Cyrus had sent them home or that Cyrus had agreed to pay for their building work. This group knew the system of government and used it against the remnant, the ones that were doing God’s will and had given themselves to rebuild the temple, Jerusalem, and Judah.
The Province Beyond The River
The following passage is a parenthesis in the narrative. Ezra—in an attempt to illustrate some of the measures used by the enemies of the Jews—references events that took place between 50 and 80 years after the events of vv. 1–5.
Josephus believes that this Artaxerxes, who forbade that the temple might be reconstructed in Jerusalem after receiving the letter from the Samaritans, was Cambyses, son of Cyrus, who took power after his father had reigned for thirty years and ruled the kingdom for eight years. Then the magi reigned one year after him, until Darius, son of Hystaspis, succeeded.1
Mighty Kings Have Ruled Over Jerusalem
In his response, the King finds records showing that Israel has had their own kings who have received “tribute, duty, and tax” and that there has been rebellion. He instructs his servants, his administrators to stop this work.
19 And I issued a decree, and they searched and found that this city from ancient days revolted against kings, and rebellion and sedition has been made in it.
20 Mighty kings have ruled over Jerusalem, governing all the province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, duty, and tax has been given.
They Stopped Them by Force and Power
This is a simple statement but with big impact, in
Ezra 4:24 (LEB) Then the work on the house of God in Jerusalem stopped, and was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Because of “the opposition Zerubbabel faced which resulted in about a 15-year pause in the work to rebuild the temple”.2
The exiles that returned “were unable to finish the work that they were doing under the rulers Zerubbabel and Jeshua before forty-six years had passed, on account of the resistance of the neighboring nations”.3
This history and the challenges faced in rebuilding the temple were well known to the Jewish people in
John 2:20 (LEB) Then the Jews said, “This temple has been under construction forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”
Consider Your Ways
We jump to Haggai because he prophecies in the middle of the account that Ezra gives. Dates are recorded based on Darius because “Babylon having been overthrown by the Persian Cyrus. The Jews having no king of their own, dated by the reign of the world kings to whom they were subject”4
It has been some fifteen years since the work stopped and Haggai rehearses what people are saying, in Haggai 1:2 “The time has not come to rebuild the temple of Yahweh”. Then in
Haggai 1:4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your houses that have been paneled while this house is desolate?”
They are struggling but it hasn’t occurred to them that they have the wrong priorities. First, we love God, then our neighbor as ourselves.
Haggai 1:6 You have sown much but have harvested little. You have eaten without being satisfied; you have drunk without being satiated; you have worn clothes without being warm; the one who earns wages puts it in a pouch with holes.’
It isn’t that they don’t have anything. In Haggai 1:4 “They are living in houses that have been paneled”, they aren’t living under the stars, and they aren’t living in tents, just barely protected from the elements. They are living in nice homes, just not with all of the abundances God wants them to have.
I Am With You Declares Yahweh
“Go up to the mountains and bring wood” in Haggai 1:8. They may have said, we don’t have what we need to build the temple. And now they are right. They had been sent with abundance and with provision from Cyrus, what happened to all of that? Somehow, they had not honored God and he sees that his “house is desolate and you are running each to your own house!” in Haggai 1:9. Then in Haggai 1:10-11 the Lord said “I have called for a drought” and then repeats “I have called for a drought”.
In Haggai 1:12-13 the leaders and the people heard the message, there is a drought because of your inactivity. But the Lord said, “I am with you”. Haggai had come to them on the first day of the sixth month. Now, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month, in Haggai 1:14 -15 “Yahweh stirred up the spirit … And they came and did the work on the house of Yahweh of hosts, their God”.
Take Courage – Do The Work
Nearly a full month later, in Haggai 2:1 “In the seventh month and the twenty-first day, the word of Yahweh came through Haggai the prophet, saying,” in Haggai 2:2-3 “does it seem like nothing to you?” sometimes we get discouraged, it seems like we are working hard and not making much progress but here comes the word of the prophet which is edification, exhortation, and comfort. God’s promise of blessing comes in Haggai 2:4-5 “but now take courage … take courage … do the work, because I am with you”.
is helping Jewish people return to their homeland. You might fund one that desires to go home. http://operationexodususa.org/Overview
- Ezra 4:12–16 The Province Beyond The River
- Haggai 1:1–7 Consider Your Ways
- Haggai 2:1–5 I Am With You Declares Yahweh
- Ezra 4:6-24
- Haggai 1:1-15
- Haggai 2:1-5
- 1. Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 312). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- 2. Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ezr 4:24). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
- 3. Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 313). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- 4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 712). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.