RECOMMENCEMENT OF THE BUILDING IN THE SECOND YEAR
OF DARIUS. PREACHING OF HAGGAI AND ZECHARIAH (vs. 1-2).
It appears from the extant prophecies of these two prophets that the
long frustration of their hopes had had its natural effect on the spirits of the
people. They had begun to weary of endeavors which produced no
practical result, and to despair of accomplishing an object which all their
efforts did not perceptibly advance. A reaction had set in. The burning
enthusiasm which had shown itself on the first arrival of the exiles with
Zerubbabel (ch. 2:68-69; 3:11) had faded away; indolence had
succeeded to activity, and a selfish desire of comfort to zeal for the honor
of God. Instead of watching eagerly for an opportunity of recommencing
the great work, and seizing the first occasion that offered itself, the people
had come to acquiesce in its indefinite postponement, and to say among
themselves, “The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should
be built” (Haggai 1:2). Laying aside all idea of moving further in the
matter of the temple, they had turned their energies to the practical object
of establishing themselves in good and comfortable houses (ibid. v.4, 9).
The great revolution in
dethroned and slain, Magism put down, and the (comparatively) pure
religion of Zoroaster re-established as the religion of the Persian state,
failed to stir their minds or raise their hopes. A whole year was allowed to
elapse, and nothing was done, no fresh effort made. It was the second year
of King Darius (ch.4:24) — nay, it was the sixth month of that year,
the month Elul, corresponding to our September, as we learn from Haggai
(Haggai 1:1) — and still no step was taken. The nation was “eating,”
and “drinking,” and “clothing itself” (ibid. v.6), and making for itself
“cieled houses” (ibid. ver. 4), while the house of God lay “waste” (ibid.
ver. 9) — in that unsightly condition always presented by works
commenced and then suspended for years. Even Zerubbabel and Jeshua the
civil and ecclesiastical rulers — acquiesced apparently in this miserable
state of things — this tameness, sloth, indifference to God’s honor, and
general pursuit of mere carnal delights. Such was the situation, when
suddenly, unexpectedly, to the people’s consternation rather than their joy,
a Prophet appeared upon the scene. “In the second year of Darius the king,
in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, came the word of the
Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel.” Prophecy had been in
abeyance for sixteen years, since the “third of Cyrus,” when Daniel uttered
his last warning (Daniel 10:1). It was now revived. Haggai came
forward, self-proclaimed a prophet of Jehovah (Haggai 1:13), and
rebuked the people in the old prophetic tone, and “stirred up the spirit of
Zerubbabel and the spirit of Jeshua” (ibid. v. 14), and by exhortations,
and warnings, and threats brought about in little more than three weeks
(ibid. v. 15) the resumption of the work, which was henceforth pressed
forward with zeal. Haggai’s mission continued only for a very short space
from September, B.C. 520, to December of the same year; but before his
work came to an end God raised up a second prophet — “Zechariah the
son of Iddo” — who carried on his task, sustained the spirit of the people
and the rulers, and saw the happy accomplishment of the great
undertaking, which he had previously announced as near (Zechariah 4:9),
in the sixth year of Darius, B.C. 516.
1 “Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of
Iddo, prophesied unto
the Jews that were in
the name of the God
Really the grandson (Zechariah 1:1). But Bere-chiah, his father, probably died while
he was a child, and, being brought up by Iddo, he was called “the son of Iddo”.
Prophesied unto the Jews. The addresses of Haggai and Zechariah were only
occasionally “prophetic,” as we now commonly understand the word. But
in the language of the Biblical writers all religious teaching is
“prophesying,” and Ezra here refers mainly to the exhortations addressed
to the Jews by Zechariah and Haggai.
Hindrances (ch. 4:24-5:1)
These two verses suggest the two sorts of hindrances which, immediately
after the foundation of the temple, interfered with the progress of the
building of it. Circumstances were adverse to the Jews; these are recorded
in ch. 4, and are illustrated in the Persian history of the time. There crept over
the people a growing indifference to the work; they became unready for the
self-denial which it demanded; their spiritual unfitness for it was increased
by the presence of the external obstacles: to understand this we must turn
to the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. This is the right way to study
all history. The issue of events cannot be understood apart from the moral
condition of the men who are affected by them; men’s moral condition,
again, and their actions are profoundly affected by circumstances. The
our character reveals itself, here our responsibility lies. The letter of
Artaxerxes effectually prevented the progress of the building: “then ceased
of the house of God which is at
the people during this period; rebukes of inaction, when activity is
impossible, only fret and wear out the soul. There is “a time to keep
silence,” as well as “a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) With the accession of
Darius, work, though it might be arduous, became possible; and then Haggai and
Zechariah did not spare their words. God gives us men as well as times
and seasons. He gives also men of different qualifications according to
different needs: the preacher as well as the workman; him who has insight
into the springs of human conduct as well as him who can lend activity.
Haggai and Zechariah are henceforth joined with Zerubbabel and Jeshua as
builders of the temple (ch. 5:2; 6:14).
Ø The jealousy of the surrounding heathen (ch.4:1-3). These were the
people mentioned in II Kings 17:24-41, sent to occupy the northern
kingdom when the Israelites were carried away into
were superstitious (ibid. v.26), followers of the lustful and cruel
worship, to contend against which the Hebrew nation was raised up
(vs. 29 -31). They had no conception of Deity but that of polytheism
(vs. 26, 32-33, 41). It was impossible for the Jews to admit their
partnership in building the temple. It would have been treason to the
object for which Cyrus had sent them back; it would have been a denial
of their own faith; it would have been a new provocation of God.
Our age, which understands that truth is one and indivisible, ought to
be able to see that not intolerance, BUT FIDELITY prompted their
refusal. These people, from whom the leaders of the Jews expected
trouble at the first, (ch. 3:3), and whom they counted “adversaries”
(ibid. ch. 4:1) directly opposed them and intrigued against them at
the court of Persia.
Ø No direct appeal was made to Cyrus to countermand the proclamation
which was the charter of the Jews’ return. “The law of the Medes and
Persians altereth not.” But no protection was afforded them. The history
of the later years of Cyrus is obscure. “The warlike prince,” says
Rawlinson, “who conquered the
He was pursuing schemes of conquest to the last. The Jews were left in
their feebleness to execute his original decree in their favor as best they
Ø The troubled history of Cambyses, the Ahasuerus of Ezra, enables us to
understand why he too was indifferent to a local quarrel in a distant
province. His jealousy of his brother was his first engrossing care. Then
came his schemes of conquest, necessitating his absence from his capital;
and, finally, the revolution which placed the Pseudo-Smerdis (Artaxerxes)
on the throne. We can understand the indecisive character of (ch.4:6.
Ø The whole character of the Persian rule was changed on the accession
of Artaxerxes. A usurper, he had no loyalty to the purpose of Cyrus. A
“Magian,” he was out of sympathy with the Zoroastrianism of his great
predecessor. Appeal was made to political jealousy alone; the history of
the Jews had shown they were too strong to be tolerated (vs. 12-16). The
appeal was successful: “then ceased the work of the house of God
which is at
work when the accession of Darius made it possible. Darius was a second
Cyrus; “the greatest of the Persian monarchs.” He was a strong man, a
conqueror. He knew the need of good government, and organized his
empire. He abolished tributary kingships, and placed in every district an
officer directly responsible to the supreme authority. Such a man would not
tolerate petty local jealousies; he was worthy of trust. Hence Haggai and
Zechariah began to urge on the work of building; and Zerubbabel and
Jeshua began to build. Then appeared the old vices of the people, testified
against by many a prophet; they were also demoralized by their enforced
Ø They were dispirited. Haggai urges them “be strong.” God is with
them: “my spirit remaineth among you, fear ye not.” All resources
are His,“the silver and the gold”? He can make all nations serve them.
“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former”
(Haggai 2:1-9). Zechariah’s prophecy glows with encouragement and
hope. God loves His people (Zechariah 1:14-17; 2:8, 10-12). Jeshua and
Zerubbabel are His chosen servants (ibid. chs. 2., 3.). The prosperity of
Ø They were worldly. The force of character native to the Jews, diverted
from the work of building, had found a channel in agriculture and trade.
Some were rich, dwelling in “celled houses” (Haggai 1:4); they were
very active (ibid. v.6). And they were hypocritical, making professed
regard for God’s word an excuse for their unreadiness. They had begun
too soon; the “seventy years” of Jeremiah were not completed: “the time
is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.”
Ø They were selfish. The old sins of oppression were rife (Zechariah
7:8-10), side by side with sanctimoniousness (ibid. vs. 1-7). They were
careless of justice and truth (ibid. vs.16-17). They were dishonest and
perjured (v. 4). These are the very vices that a time of adversity is likely
to foster. One of the perils against which we ought to be on our guard
when a check is imposed on our prosperity, and we find ourselves unable,
for a time, to execute a noble purpose, is that we drop into an altogether
lower mood. A few men can mold circumstances; there are more, but
still few, who are indifferent to them; most men are profoundly affected
sphere of circumstance is a sphere for PRAYER! “Give me neither
poverty nor riches.” (Proverbs 30:8) To limit the use of prayer to personal
character is impossible; for among the influences affecting personal character
are the order of nature, and the course of events.
vices, fostered by special seasons. Prosperity may nourish the generous
virtues; a liberal habit acquired in prosperity may help to preserve us from
a craven, niggardly spirit in times of care. Adversity may give us an
opportunity for patience, meekness, and faith; and, by teaching us to be
indifferent to personal ease, may fit us to consecrate returning prosperity to
God and our fellows.
may master us or we may master them. Our ability to read the “signs of the
times” is an indication of our moral character. Contrast the Jews’
perversion of the “seventy years’” prophecy (Haggai 1:2) with the
prophets’ quick perception, so soon as the second year of Darius, that here
was a man on whom they could rely, and that the time was come to resume
work. Compare also our Lord’s solemn denunciations of the Pharisees
(Matthew 16:1-4). It is thus, by events working upon and revealing
character, that TIME IS PREPARING OUR ETERNITY!
2 “Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son
of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at
Then rose up Zerubbabel… and Jeshua. Haggai’s preaching
was especially addressed to these two leaders (Haggai 1:1), and their
spirit was especially “stirred up” (ibid. v. 14) by his preaching. The
prophets of God — Haggai and Zechariah — were with them,
throughout their work, helping them; and that in various ways.
1. By direct command to the people — “Go up to the mountain, and bring
wood, and build the house” (Haggai 1:8);
2. By warnings — “Because of mine house that is waste… therefore the
heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit”
(ibid. vs. 9-10);
3. By exhortations — “Be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be
strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be ye strong, all ye
people of the land, saith the Lord, and work” (ibid. ch.2:4); and
4. By encouraging prophecy — “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the
foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it” (Zechariah 4:9);
and “the glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former,
saith the Lord of Hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord
of Hosts” (Haggai 2:9). By these and similar means the two prophets
aroused a spirit of enthusiasm, which caused the work to make rapid
progress, and was an invaluable assistance.
The Work Revived (vs. 1-2)
How completely the work described in these verses was a revival of the
previous work of building the temple, as described in chaps, 1.-3., may be
seen by the use of the word “began” in v. 2. Even “Zerubbabel” and
“Jeshua,” the leaders, had been remiss and, as it were, dead to the
enterprise; consequently, in again going on with it, had again, as it were, to
“begin.” This seems also the best explanation of the singular way in which
Haggai (Haggai 2:18) and Zechariah (Zechariah 8:9) speak of the
“foundation” of the Lord’s house as having been “laid” at this time. This
second “foundation,” in the reign of Darius, led to so much more than the
first did in that of Cyrus, and proved so much more worthy, therefore, of
such a name in the issue, that, not unnaturally, it got almost to monopolize
that name even on prophetic lips. It is thus, in another sphere, that
historians speak of the
Caesar, though in reality he only reestablished in a more abiding form (as
it turned out) what his predecessor, Julius Caesar, had previously founded
and lost. Strictly speaking, indeed, would either of these first foundations
have been a foundation practically if it had not been afterwards followed up
and, as it were, superseded by a second? How this happy resurrection of a
buried cause was brought about in this instance is the special point now to
consider. It was by:
the indications of
o the voice of prophecy, in the next.
THE INDICATIONS OF
people, in the interim between the visit of Rehum (ch.4:23) and the
time at which our chapter opens, in various ways.
Ø In the language of hope. A change of rulers had taken place — both of
chief rulers and also of subordinates. Darius instead of Artaxerxes;
Tatnai, etc. (v. 3) instead of Rehum, etc. This was something of itself.
When things are as bad as they can be, no change, to say the least, can be
for the worse. In such a case, moreover, a violent change, such as this
which brought Darius Hystaspis to the throne in place of the usurper
Pseudo-Smerdis, and which probably, therefore, affected the empire in all
its provinces, was of a still more hopeful description. How likely that the
hand which took the previous monarch’s crown should also reverse his
policy! Especially as, in this instance (and it is almost certain that some
rumors of this would reach the ears of the Jews), the new king was
showing almost ostentatious respect to the name and memory of that
Cyrus who had been so favorable to the Jews. To men anxious to be at
work again, this would have been great encouragement to begin.
Ø In the language of blessing. Judging from the apparently royal luxury
which some of the returned Jews were enabled to indulge in (Jeremiah
22:14; Haggai 1:4), the means of recommencing the work must have
been somehow placed in their power. This, also, a call to do so (compare
Deuteronomy 8:12, 17-18; Galatians 6:10; James 4:17).
Ø In the language of affliction. These other calls not being attended to,
there came one of a different kind. God met the people in their path of
disobedience, as the angel met Balaam (Numbers 22:32), with signs of
displeasure. The blessings He had given being misused, He began to
withdraw them. Instead of plenty there was “dearth” (Haggai 1:11), to
the great impoverishment (ibid. v. 6) and sore disappointment (ibid. v. 9)
of them all. See further Zechariah 8:9-10 as to the wide extent and
deep severity of this visitation; and also as to the precise time of its
occurrence, viz., just “before” the people for a second time laid the
“foundations” of God’s house. Putting these things together, were they
not a loud constructive call to begin? So fair an opening, such ample
means, such a clear-timed judgment, what does it all mean? To this
effect, at least, the Jewish elders ought, in such circumstances, to inquire
(see end of Job 10:2).
· THE VOICE OF PROPHECY. It was the special privilege, however, of
graciously pleased to make known His will to them by articulate speech
(Deuteronomy 4:33; Romans 3:1-2). So, accordingly, it was here.
these silent gestures on the part of
there were direct verbal utterances also from the lips of those who were
authorized to speak to
prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, raised up especially, as it appears, for this
special emergency, prophesied at that time to these returned Jews (v.1).
Much importance seems attached here to this fact. These prophets
prophesied to these Jews, it is said, “in the name of the God of
was upon them.” Being God’s people — being, in fact, the very heart and
hope of God’s people at that particular moment — God’s prophets were
commissioned to recognize and address them as such. Well might the
people listen, that being the case. The purport, also, of the message thus
sent to them was just as much to the point. A mere glance at the extant
prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah will suffice to show this. The
prophecies sent, e.g., were just what was needed:
Ø In the way of appeal. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider”
(Haggai 1:5; 7); so again “Consider” so, twice over, and
with a special note of urgency, in (ibid. ch.2:18: “Consider now
from this day and upward… consider.” Consider what you are
doing, and what you ought to be doing, in your present circumstances.
Consider their meaning and message, and what they are now saying to
you, in effect.
Ø In the way of interpretation and explanation. This is what these
circumstances are saying to you, viz., that it is “time” to build the
Lord’s house (Haggai 1:1-3). There is no further change to be waited
for. Now, under your present ruler, is the “time” to begin. Your
recent blessings mean this (ibid. v.4). Your present trials mean it too
(ibid. vs. 6-11). Thus did prophecy, in this case,
and explain the “signs,” as it were, of those “times.”
Ø In the way of promise. Our present history seems to speak of this
particularly in the end of v. 2 — “the prophets of God helping them.”
The first result of the appeal and remonstrance above spoken of seems
to have been a feeling of “fear” (Haggai 1:12). As soon as this
began to manifest itself (see middle of same verse) in a spirit of
obedience, the voice of promise was heard. “Then spake Haggai
the LORD’S messenger in the LORD’S message unto the people,
saying, I am with you, saith the LORD” (ibid. v.13). Within a short
month after (compare ibid. v.15, and 2:1) came another and larger
promise (ibid. vs. 2-9); and two others again from the same prophet in
about two months from that time. Besides that notable series of eight
prophetic visions, mainly of hope and encouragement, from the prophet
Zechariah, before the close of the same year (Zechariah 1:7 - 6:15). So
plentifully was this precious dew vouchsafed at this special season of
growth; and so harmoniously did all these various changes,
dispensations, and voices work together for this revival of God’s work.
From these considerations we see:
1. The duty of studying God’s works: His works in providence, and in
nature too, so far as we have opportunities for so doing, because in all of
them He has something to say to us, if we are only able to understand it.
This applies especially to those works or doings of God which concern our
own persons and times, because we may almost say of such doings that
they are presented to us for study. Note the comparison on this subject
between nature and providence in Matthew 16:2-3; and see I Chronicles 12:32.
(Also Psalm 19 – this web site – CY – 2015)
2. The duty of listening to Gods word. Partly on account of the clearer
significance which it gives to God’s works; partly because of the additional
message which it brings of its own. For the language of some of God’s
works see Psalm 19:1-6, and compare Romans 1:19-20. For the
further language of God’s word see same Psalm 7-9. Compare also, as
showing the specially exalted and complementary character of prophecy or
revelation, the remarkable declaration of Psalm 138:2, and II Peter
1:19-21. The dark page of God’s doings (for so it is to us,. see Psalm
97:2) should never be neglected; but it never can be safely interpreted apart
from the plainer page of His word. We may also see from these
considerations what is:
3. The central topic of all prophecy. The building of God’s house by
God’s Son, JESUS CHRIST! . That house was a well-known type of His body
(John 2:19-21). In that restored house He Himself was to appear (Haggai 2:7;
Malachi 3:1; Luke 2:25-32). And out of that figurative “house” or
all other families on earth, He was to arise! When, therefore, the work of
building that house, under apparently hopeless circumstances, has to be
revived, how fittingly does the spirit of prophecy suddenly reappear on the
scene, to stimulate, direct, and encourage these men, who were, virtually,
building for all mankind in building for their own MESSIAH! . It may remind
us of those well-known passages, John 5:39; Acts 10:43; Revelation 19:10.
May it teach us also to give that adorable SAVIOUR a similarly preeminent
place in our thoughts!
The Inspiration of Prophecy (vs. 1-2)
Through the hostility of the Samaritans, who obtained authority from
Artaxerxes, the work of building the temple was interrupted. This
interruption seems to have commenced under Cyrus (ch.4:5). It was
continued under the brief reign of an upstart who feigned himself to be the
brother of Ahasuerus; and it was carried on “unto the second year of
Darius king of
“Then the prophets,” etc. Here notice that:
Ø The people now needed rousing.
o During the stoppage of the building they had cooled in their
zeal for the house of the Lord. Had they examined their hearts
they might have seen this, and they might have inferred from
it that God must be displeased. But they had not the courage to
do this. Are we not slow to examine our own hearts, and to draw
faithful inferences from their state? “Examine yourselves
to see whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.”
(II Corinthians 13:5)
o If they looked around they might have seen the tokens of Divine
displeasure. For, year after year, the heavens refused their dew,
and the scanty harvests were smitten with “blasting, and with
mildew, and with hail.” Are we not slow to see the hand of God
in our afflictions? Reflect: What greater calamity could befall us
than that God should leave us to ourselves!
Ø Haggai brought home the truth to them.
o His first commission was to awaken them to a sense of their
growing selfishness and apathy (see Haggai 1:1-5). How far
are we ever justified in quietly “dwelling in cieled houses”
while the work of God is neglected?
o Then he reminded them that the blast upon their harvests was
from God, and incited them to arise and build (ibid. vs.6-11).
o This message from God had the desired effect (ibid. vs.1-12;
compare the text). What part Zechariah took at this early date
we are not particularly informed.
Ø They were satisfied with the credentials of the prophet.
o What these were we are not told. Miracles might have
authenticated him. This was notably the case with Moses.
Or he may have foretold the drought through which they had
passed. In this way Samuel “was established to be a prophet
of the Lord” (I Samuel 3:19-20).
o In whatever way it may have been, Haggai so prophesied,
“in the name of the God of
about him. Look at this expression (see Exodus 3:13-20; 33:19;
compare also Numbers 14:17), where “power” is put for “name,”
as in Exodus 34:5-6). Reflect, gratefully, that we have the truth
of God upon THE CLEAREST TESTIMONY! The Scriptures
are authenticated to us not only by miracles, but by the ever-
accumulating evidence of prophecy, and by the deep
experiences of the heart.
with them were the prophets of God helping them.”
Ø It sustains under the burdens of the work of God.
o The work is stupendous. Many interests are involved in it. Many
workmen are engaged in it. If all these were loyal, still the work
would be heavy.
o Haggai therefore, four and twenty days after his first commission,
again appeared with needed words. “Then spake Haggai the
Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message, saying, I am with you,
saith the Lord.” What a blessed assurance! How spirit stirring!
(1:13-14; see also Exodus 33:14-15.)
Ø It sustains against the murmuring of God’s people.
o Sons of Belial will for very perversity cause trouble. There are
also crotchety persons among the godly who embarrass their
leaders. And there are croakers who have a morbid pleasure in
disparaging the good things of the present by comparing them
with the things of the past (see ch.3:12).
o Haggai, seven and twenty days after his former message, again
appeared to strengthen the hands of the faithful against these.
In doing this he uttered a very glorious prophecy, showing how
by the presence of Jesus in this disparaged building it should
come to exceed the glory of the
2:1-9). Note — This prophecy should convince the Jews. They
admit that the Shekinah never came to the second temple
(see Ezekiel 43 dealing with God’s removal of His presence
from the first temple – this web site – CY – 2015); that
temple is now no more. If the presence of Jesus did not
constitute the greater glory of the second house, what did?
Ø It sustains against the assaults of enemies.
o Opposition reappears, now led by Tatnai and Shethar-boznai,
who question the right of the Jews to resume the building
which had been stopped by command of Artaxerxes (vs. 3-4).
o Zechariah now appeared. He opened his commission by
exhorting to repentance (Zechariah 1:1-6). Note — When
trials come we should search our hearts, and, if we see cause,
amend our ways.
o Haggai also followed with words of encouragement, and
assurances that, despite the opposition, the work would be
prospered. Zechariah subsequently gave them like assurances.
These messages came at seasonable intervals to help the leaders
and the workers. Reflection — All these encouragements belong
to those building the spiritual temple, for the prophecies have an
ulterior reference to gospel times. Let us use the inspirations of
Spiritual Amendment (ch. 4:24-5:2)
It is quite true that the building of the house of the Lord ceased in
consequence of the opposition of the Samaritans; it is also true that this
cessation continued because of their animosity and opposition. Yet this
does not express the whole truth. Here, as elsewhere, if not everywhere,
different causes combined to produce the one result. The long inactivity on
the part of the returned Jews was partly due to their own moral deficiency;
there was with them some:
great advantage of being able to compare one book of Scripture with
another, and (what is more) a historical with a prophetical book.
Comparing Haggai 1. with Ezra 5., we conclude that, under the pressure
from without, the first zeal of the liberated captives cooled, and that they
allowed themselves to be too much affected by the unfriendliness of their
neighbors. If it was really necessary — as perhaps it was — to lay down
their weapons at the first, they might have resumed them much sooner than
they did. They permitted nearly two years to pass without venturing to take
up that which they laid down. Meantime the first ardor abated, and priests
and people, taking their tone from the governor and the high priest, settled
down into satisfaction when they should have been filled with eagerness
and anxiety. A noble aspiration was rapidly giving way to an ignoble
contentment. This is but too frequently recuring a page in the history of
human goodness. First an all-consuming ardor, an intensity of heat which
promises to shine with utmost brilliance and burn up everything which is
impure; then, after a while, the light dies down, the spirit cools, and only a
few sparks, with a little smoke, are left. First devotion, which thinks the
hours of worship all too short; zeal which longs to multiply its labors;
consecration which prefers the post of danger and the field of difficulty.
Then languor, laziness, love of ease; the hours of worship are too long; the
duties too heavy; the perils too great. The sanctuary is passed by, the
vineyard deserted, the enterprise abandoned.
vigorously, after the manner of a Hebrew prophet, Haggai reproved and
incited Zerubbabel and Jeshua, we may read in both chapters of that book
of prophecy. “Is it time for you to dwell in your cieled houses, and this
house lie waste?” is the burden of the Lord which Haggai delivered. These
men of God — for he was joined by Zechariah — must have sought the
praise of God rather than that of man; their one care was to be faithful to
Him in whose name they spoke, and so to “deliver their soul.” They did not
“prophesy smooth things,” but rough, hard, trying things. Not only those
whose chief vocation and profession it is to speak for God, but all who fear
His name and call themselves His disciples, must be ready, on occasion, to
declare the “burden of the Lord,” to speak the word which is unpalatable,
which wounds and troubles the soul. Sometimes it is our duty, like the
Master, to send men away “sorrowful” (Matthew 19:22). Sometimes
we must receive in grief rather than anger the reproaches of our friends.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Proverbs 27:6)
build” (v. 2). The Jewish leaders hearkened to the voice of God speaking
to them through the prophets, and they regained their lost devotedness.
“Then they rose up, and began to build.” They heeded the admonitions
given, and cheerfully cooperated with those who gave them. They had the
wisdom to perceive that they were wrong; they frankly owned it, and they
promptly and energetically set themselves to rectify their ways. Here is
TRUE MANLINESS as well as WISDOM! It is a weak and foolish thing
for a man to go on in a false course when he sees that he is in the wrong.
There is nothing which more:
Ø honors our manhood than to submit at once to the known will of God,
whether by pursuing our path, or by returning in our way, or by holding
our hand. There is nothing which more:
Ø conduces to our own spiritual elevation and dignity. Before honor is
humility; if we humble ourselves, when wrong, we begin at once to
enter the path which leads to true exaltation. There is nothing which
Ø conducts to lasting usefulness and joy. If Zerubbabel had rejected the
counsel of the Lord, he would certainly have suffered. As it was, he
was honored and enriched of heaven.
RENEWAL OF OPPOSITION ON THE PART OF THE
NEIGHBORING HEATHEN. LETTER WRITTEN BY THEM AND
SENT TO DARIUS (vs. 3-17).
Once more opposition showed itself. Tatnai, a high officer, called “governor on this
side the river” (v.
3), perhaps satrap of
Persian noble probably, at this time took the lead, and learning that the building
making progress, came in person to
by what authority the temple and city were being restored. Zerubbabel
seems to have answered, “By the authority of a decree of Cyrus, issued in
that he became king of
question was asked, “What are the names of the men responsible for
carrying on the work?” Zerubbabel answered that he was alone
responsible, giving his name as Sheshbazzar, and declaring himself to be
acting under a commission received from Cyrus (v. 15), and never
revoked. Thereupon Tatnai and Shethar-boznai seem to have proposed a
cessation of the building until reference could be made to Darius and his
pleasure learned (v. 5); but Zerubbabel declined to agree to this, and the
work proceeded without intermission (ibid.). Meanwhile, a letter was
written to Darius, not unfairly stating the case, and suggesting that the
state archives should be searched for the decree ascribed to Cyrus, that it
might be seen what exactly it was that the decree sanctioned, and further
that the king should expressly declare what his own pleasure was in the
matter (v. 17). This letter Tatnai, in his capacity of satrap, dispatched to
the court by special messenger, and so left the business to the decision of
Darius and his counselors, without further seeking to influence him.
Remark the strong contrast between this dispatch and that of the
Samaritans. In the Samaritan letter private pique and enmity show
4:12), “hurtful unto kings and provinces’’ (ibid. v. 15); its intention to
revolt is assumed (v. 13); the king is warned that his dominion and
revenue are in danger (v. 16); no hint is given of there having ever been
any such document as the decree of Cyrus; no reference is made to
Sheshbazzar or the royal commission that he had received; altogether, the
case is stated as strongly as possible against the Jews, with great and
manifest unfairness. Here, on the contrary, where the person who takes up
the matter is the Persian governor, a dispassionate tone prevails; no
charges are made; no abuse uttered; the letter is confined to a statement of
facts and an inquiry; the Jews are allowed to give their own account of
their proceedings, nearly half the letter being their statement of their own
case (vs. 11-15); the decree of Cyrus is brought into prominence,
asserted on the one hand, not denied on the other; that it should be
searched for is suggested; and finally there is a simple request that the king
will declare his will in respect of the building.
3 “At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the
river, and Shetharboznai and their companions, and said thus unto
them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make
up this wall?” Tatnai, governor on this side the river. The title given to
Tatnai is the same which is assigned to Zerubbabel, both in ch.6:7
and in Haggai (Haggai 1:1, 14, etc.), viz., pechah, which is a somewhat
vague term of authority, translated sometimes “captain” (I Kings
20:24; Daniel 3:2-3, etc.), sometimes “deputy (Esther 8:9; 9:3), but
generally, as here, “governor.” The etymology is uncertain, but seems not
to be Semitic. The respective rank of Tatnai and Zerubbabel is indicated,
not by this term, but by what follows it. Tatnai was pechah “beyond the river,”
i.e. governor of the
whole tract west of the
other “sub-satrap of
of his subsatraps.
4 “Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of
the men that make this building?” Then said we unto them. It is impossible
that the existing text can be sound here. Ezra must have written, “Then said
they to them.” Tatnai and Shethar-boznai followed up their first question by a
second, “What are the names of the men that make this building?” (compare below,
5 “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they
could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and
then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter.”
The eye of their God was upon the elders. “The eyes of the
Lord are upon the righteous and His ears are open to their cry!” (Psalm 34:15)
with a jealous watchfulness, which never for a moment slackens. “He
withdraweth not His eyes from them” (Job 36:7). Nothing happens to them
that He does not know and allow. At this time the elders, who presided over
the workmen employed in the restoration, were a special subject of God’s
watchful care, so that those who would fain have hindered them could not.
The work of rebuilding went on uninterruptedly during the whole time that
the messengers were away.
A Faithful Ministry in the Church (vs. 1-5)
name of the God of
It advances in the Divine Name. These two prophets
the name of God; a faithful ministry:
o is commissioned by God,
o has His authority, and
o is qualified by Him (II Corinthians 5:20).
Ø It partakes of the Divine Character. These prophets must bear in their
conduct the purity of God, and in their words the mercy of God; a
faithful ministry must exhibit the Divine Character.
It recognizes the Divine Covenant. These two prophets
as the covenant people engaged in a great work; a faithful ministry is for
the Church in its redemptive relationships.
building operations of
easy life, and was reluctant to enter again upon the arduous task of civil
and religious restoration. (It is bad and is a great mistake to take the
path of least resistance to Satan’s overtures. CY – 2015)
Ø This faithful ministry was necessary. The Israelites were dwelling in
ceiled houses, and God’s house was waste (Haggai 1:4). They required
to see the wrong of this; and who will show it them if the prophets of
God do not?
Ø It was timely. It was a word in season to the people; they needed to be
called from indifference to their great work. A faithful prophet will
adapt his words to the condition of his hearers, and seek to engage the
Church in the duty of the hour.
Ø It was effective. The people no longer “earned wages to put into a bag
with holes,” but they feared the Lord, and entered upon his work
(Haggai 1:6). Duty is really more remunerative than luxury. See then
the reviving effect which two earnest men may exert within a lukewarm
Church; they quicken its fading life and inspire its languid work. A
faithful ministry is most influential for good.
“Prophesied unto the Jews.”
Ø Not carnal. No sensational appeals were made to set the luxurious
Israelites to build again the ruined temple; but by the word of the Lord
they were urged to duty. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual
(II Corinthians 10:4); THE WORD OF GOD is the preacher’s power.
Christ’s ministry was spiritual.
Ø Not coercive. The sword did not drive the Israelites out of their celled
houses; but the word of God spoken by His servants, working in the
conscience. The truth is attractive, not coercive. Christ drew sinners to
Ø Not cunning. These two prophets did not seek by cunning arts to win
the Israelites from luxury to work for God; but by faithful words of
remonstrance. Christ sought not to win men by artifice, but by a solemn
statement of fact and duty. The world will not be subdued to virtue by
the statesman, by the warrior, by the educationalist, but by the prophet.
OF GOOD MEN. “Then rose up Zerubbabel” (v. 2). The
prophets alone are morally powerful; but much more so when Zerubbabel
and Jeshua are allied with them.
Ø The alliance augments numbers. The work of restoration gathers
strength by numerical addition, especially by the addition of influential
men like Zerubbabel. The ministry needs numerical support; numbers:
o increase the force of the testimony,
o exhibit the power of the gospel;
o aid the argument of the truth; and
o are prophetic of future increase.
Ø The alliance ensures efficiency. Zerubbabel will aid, advise, support the
two prophets, and they in turn will aid him; this combined agency will
(Mark 2:3). In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom and (“safety.”
Proverbs 11:14; 24:6)
FOR WHICH IT IS CALLED.
Ø Productive work. “To build the house of God” (v. 2). But for these
two prophets it is likely that
in their ceiled houses, and have neglected the temple. The Church
would be much more unmindful of Christian work than it is were
it not for its faithful ministers:
o They awaken its memory.
o They quicken its conscience.
o They arouse its affections.
o They give it a good personal example by coming
themselves to build the house of God;
well nigh all houses of God in the earth would not be built but for
the ministers of the gospel.
Ø Permanent work. The house endures when those who built it are gone.
prophet” (v. 1). “At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this
side the river” (v. 3). When the prophet comes to a Church to aid its
work, Satan generally sends agencies to hinder it. The satanic:
o Simultaneous. The prophets and the hostile governors come together;
the spiritual and the satanic move side by side.
o Inquisitive. “Who hath commanded you to build this house?” How
the satanic interrogates the spiritual.
o Overruled. “But the eye of the Lord was upon the elders of the Jews.”
overcome all hindrances.
The Eye of God (vs. 3-5)
The “people of the land” procured authority from the Persian king to stop
rebuilding of the city and wall of
rebuilding of the temple as well. After an interval of nine years, through the
incitement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the great work was
resumed, and with the resumption the old hostility was revived. So the
text, etc. The eye of their God was upon them:
Ø This figure expresses His watchful care.
o His eyes are everywhere (see Job 28:24; Proverbs 15:3). He
observes us in the work of the sanctuary. When working in the city.
When working on the wall. (When we rise up and when we sit
down; Psalm 139:2)
o His vision searches the heart (see I Samuel 16:7). He fully
comprehends the hypocrite. So the sincerity of the innocent.
How assuring! How nerving to moral courage!
Ø It also expresses loving favor.
o As pity is expressed by the human eye, so, etc. Thus used to express
the compassion of God for His suffering people in
10). Also, for the tears of Hezekiah (II Kings 20:5). So He pitied His
o As the eye also expresses satisfaction, so the complacency of God, etc.
Thus favor towards the holy land (Deuteronomy 11:12). Towards the
holy temple (I Kings 8:29). Towards the holy people (Psalm 34:15;
Jeremiah 24:4-7). What comfort to the faithful!
Ø They need this in the presence of their inquisitors.
o They are people of influence. There is “Tatnai, the governor on this
side the river.” If
the “river” here be the
be over the provinces of
probably the secretary appointed by the Persian crown, as was
customary, to act as a check upon the governor. There were “their
companions,” probably magistrates.
o They put questions which imported mischief. By whose authority do
you build (v. 3)? Expressed again, v. 9. Who are your leaders in this
questionable business? Implied, v. 4 (see v. 10).
Ø Their answers were guided by a watchful wisdom.
o That they acted as the “servants of the God of heaven and earth” (see
v. 11). No authority could be higher.
o That they claimed a prescriptive right in the temple which was
originally built by one of their great kings (see v. 11).
o That their captivity did not forfeit them that right. For God banished
them into captivity for their sin: Nebuchadnezzar was but his servant;
and God now favors their restoration (see vs. 11-12). We should never
be ashamed to avow our connection with God and His work.
Ø By moderating the opposition.
o Their former unscrupulous foes are not mentioned (see ch. 4:7-9).
Changes in the supreme government often involve changes of
provincial rulers. Possibly the judgment of God may have overtaken
o The temper of these men is better. They state facts honestly.
Ø By sustaining them at their work.
o Tatnai proposed that, until the question of their right should be
determined by Darius, the work should cease. But they saw the eye
of their God, and declined (v. 5).
o The prophets kept this vision vividly before them. They came forth
from the presence of God, having witnessed His visions and heard His
words, which, under the strongest sense of the reality, they so
communicated that the people saw as it were the very eye of God upon
them, and went on with His work. Should not ministers, as
coming from the very presence of God, so deliver the gospel message?
Ø By bringing good out of the evil.
o The attention of Darius was thus called to the decree of Cyrus (see v.17).
o The king issued instructions accordingly (ch.6:6-12).
o These instructions were carded out, and the good work was carried on
to its completion (ibid. vs.13-15).
The Providence of God over the Church (v. 5)
WATCH OVER THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH (v. 5). As soon as
the Israelites commenced to build the temple their enemies began to
trouble them; but while the eye of “Tatnai,” “Shethar-boznai, and their
companions” was upon them, “the eye of their God was upon the elders of
Ø The Divine providence is cognizant of the first motion of the enemies of
the Church; this should cause them to pause in their unholy task.
Ø The Divine providence watches the men who would oppose themselves
to the enterprise of the Church; they cannot escape the Omniscient eye.
Ø The Divine providence watches the Church earnestly in the midst of its
enemies. The look sends light, means love, indicates help, should inspire
trust. Let the eye of the Church be toward God. The Church must
remember that the eye of God is upon it, and not yield to the enemy.
History proves that God’s eye is upon the Church; the Bible asserts it;
reason suggests that the heavenly Father will watch over His troubled
children and workers.
DEFEAT THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH. “That they could not
cause them to cease” (v. 5). The providence of God sustained the
Israelites in their work of building, notwithstanding the hostility of their
cause them to cease.”
the matter came to Darius.” The people of God have citizen rights, and
are not to cease their work at the bidding of unauthorized men.
Church. The letter in those days was a slow process; before it could be
answered the building would be well advanced. This delay was useful to
His people. Thus God’s aid renders the Church victorious over enemies.
THE CHURCH TO EXPERIENCE THE FULL SEVERITY OF
TRIAL. The opposition of Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of
their companions (ch. 4:7) was much more inveterate than that of
Tatnai; the hostility now is feeble. Heaven does not always allow the
furnace into which the Church is cast to be seven times hotter than is wont;
in wondrous and kindly manner it restrains the wrath of man, that spiritual
work may be completed. The worst passions of men are controlled by God;
the old enmity of the serpent is limited and often subdued.
HELPERS FOR THE CHURCH. “Let the work of this house of God
alone” (ch. 6:7). God can raise up a Cyrus to commence the work,
and a Darius to conserve and complete it; kings are within the plan of
6“The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river,
and Shetharboznai and his companions the Apharsachites, which
were on this side the river, sent unto Darius the king:
7 “They sent a letter unto him, wherein was written thus; Unto Darius
the king, all peace.” The Apharsachites recall the “Apharsites” and the
“Apharsathchites” of ch.4:9. Possibly all the three forms are
provincial variants of the more correct Parsaya, which appears in Daniel
(6:28) as the Chaldaean equivalent of “Persian.” Here the Apharsachite
“companions” of Tatnai and Shethar-boznai are perhaps the actual Persians
who formed their body-guard and their train.
8 “Be it known unto
the king, that we went into the
to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones,
and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and
prospereth in their hands. 9 Then asked we those elders, and said unto
them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up
these walls? 10 We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might
write the names of the men that were the chief of them.”
We went into the
a doubtful passage in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:7), that Tatnai ordinarily resided
at Jernsalem. But this expression indicates the contrary. Most probably the
remarkable expression in the mouth of a heathen. It has some parallels, e.g.
the expressions of Cyrus in ch.1:2-3, and of Nebuchadnezzar in
Daniel 2:47 and 3:29; but they were persons who had been brought to
the knowledge that Jehovah was the one true God, under very peculiar and
miraculous circumstances. Tatnai, on the other hand, represents the mere
ordinary Persian official; and his acknowledgment of the God of the Jews
as “the great God” must be held to indicate the general belief of the
Persians on the subject (see the comment on ch.1:2). Which is
builded. Rather, “being builded.” With great stones. Literally, “stones of
rolling,” which is commonly explained as stones so large that they had to
be rolled along the ground. But the squared stones used in building neither
were, nor could be, rolled; they are always represented as dragged,
generally on a rough sledge. And it is not at all probable that in the “day of
small things” (Zechariah 4:10) the Jews were building with very large
stones. The Septuagint translates “choice stones;” the Vulgate “unpolished’’ or
“rough stone.” Some of the Jewish expositors suggest “marble.” And
timber is laid. A good deal of timber had been employed in the old
temple, but chiefly for the floors of chambers (I Kings 6:10), for the
internal lining of the walls (ibid. vs. 9, 15), and probably for the roofing.
In the new temple, timber seems to have been employed also as the main
material of the walls. Here again we have a trace of the economy
necessary in the “day of small things.”
11 “And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of
the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded
these many years ago,
which a great king of
up.” We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth.
Instead of doing as they were requested, and giving in a long list of names
and titles of office, the elders merge their individuality in this general
phrase; as though they would say, “As individuals, we are nothing; as men
of mark in our nation, we are nothing; what we do, we do simply as
servants of God, directed by Him (Haggai 1:8), bound to obey Him,
answerable only to Him for our conduct.” They speak of God as “the God
of heaven and earth” — a very rare title — partly in humble
acknowledgment of His universal and absolute dominion, as Christians
speak when they call God “the Maker of heaven and earth;” partly to
impress favorably those to whom they speak, persons accustomed to
regard God primarily as the Being who “gave mankind earth and heaven”
(Rawlinson’s ‘Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persia,’ vol. 1. pp. 285, 291, 319,
324, etc.). And build. That is “rebuild.” The house that was builded
these many years ago. The old house, begun more than 400, finished
nearly 400 years previously, and only just beginning to rise again from its
ruins, after lying waste for nearly seventy years. Which a great king of
if we consider the extent and prosperity of his kingdom, and the position
that it occupied among the other kingdoms of the earth — a “great king”
under whatever aspect we view him, though one who sowed the seeds of
that corruption which ultimately sapped the national life, and provoked
God to bring the monarchy to an end.
12 “But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto
wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of
people away into
Mainly by their long series of idolatries, with the moral abominations that
those idolatries involved:
For centuries, with only short and rare intervals, “the chief of the priests, and the
people, had with only transgressed very much after all the abominations of the
heathen,” and had even “polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed
Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. He punished, as He always does,
NATIONAL APOSTASY with NATIONAL DESTRUCTION! . Making an
idolatrous people, but a less guilty one, His sword, He cut off
previously cut off
the bulk of the people into a distant country. Not by his own power or might did
Nebuchadnezzar prevail. God could have delivered the Jews from him as
easily as He had delivered them in former days from Jabin (Judges 4:2-24),
and from Zerah (II Chronicles 14:11-15), and from Sennacherib
(II Kings 19:20-36). But He was otherwise minded; He “gave them into
the hand of Nebuchadnezzar” (compare II Chronicles 36:17). He divided
their counsels, paralyzed their resistance, caused Pharaoh Hophra to desert
their cause (II Kings 24:7), and left them helpless and unprotected.
Nebuchadnczzar was his instrument to chastise his guilty people, and in
pursuing his own ends merely worked out the purposes of the Almighty.
13 “But in the first year of Cyrus the king of
Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.” Recent discoveries
contract tablets have shown that at
title of “king of
same title was passed on to his successors, Cambyses, Darius, etc. Hence
find Artaxerxes Longimanus
called “king of
14“And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which
Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and
brought them into the
take out of the
one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor;”
The vessels also of gold and silver. See ch. 1:7-11. On the great importance
attached to these vessels, see the comment on ibid. v.7. So long as they remained
Babylonians, and a disgrace to the Jews. Their retention was a perpetual
desecration. Their restoration by Cyrus was an act at once of piety and of
kindliness. On the
15 “And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the
temple that is in
his place.” Let the house of God be builded in his place. i.e. upon the
old holy site — the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac, in a figure
(Hebrews 11:17-19), where the angel stood and stayed the pestilence in
David s time (II Samuel 24:16-18), and where “the glory of the Lord
descended and filled the house” under Solomon (II Chronicles 7:1).
16 “Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the
house of God which is
now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.”
Since that time even until now hath it been in building. It
is not quite clear whether these words are part of the answer given by the
Jews to Tatnai, which he reports to Darius (see v. 11), or Tatnai’s own
statement of what he believes to have been the fact. Perhaps the latter view
is the more probable; and we may suppose Tatnai not to have been aware
that from the second year of Cyrus to the commencement of the reign of
Smerdis, and again during the latter part of this reign and the first eighteen
months of the reign of Darius, the work had been suspended.
17 “Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made
in the king’s
treasure house, which is there at
be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house
of God at
concerning this matter.” Let there be search made in the king’s treasure
house. The Vulgate has “in the king’s library;” and this, though not the literal
rendering, is probably what was intended by Tatuai. Libraries or record
chambers were attached to the royal residences under the old Assyrian and
Babylonian kings; and the practice was no doubt continued by the Persians.
Some of these record offices have been recently found, and their stores
recovered. In the year 1850 Mr. Layard came upon the royal library of
Asshur-bani-pal at Koyunjik, and obtained from it several hundreds of
documents. More recently, in 1875-76, some Arab explorers happened upon
similar collection near
(‘Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology,’ vol. 6. pp. 4, 582).
It is quite possible that the “decree of Cyrus” may still exist, and be one
Opposition Revived (vs. 3-17)
We have in these verses a twofold account of two different things. In vs. 3-4, in
the first place, we have the historian’s account of the revived
opposition called out by the revival of the work of temple-building on the
part of the Jews. In vs. 6-10 we have an almost identical but slightly
fuller account of the same matter in the letter sent by the opponents
themselves to Darius. In v. 5, in the next place, we have the historian’s
account of the amount of success to which that revived opposition
attained, viz., to obtaining the consent of the builders, whilst still justifying
and continuing their operations, to refer the whole subject to King Darius.
In vs. 11-17 that same letter of the same opponents to Darius gives us a
fuller account of this point also. Altogether, we cannot help seeing how
very marked is the difference, so far as the question of result is concerned,
between this attempt and that made before. In that other case, while the
appeal was pending, the work on the spot almost expired of itself (ch. 4:4).
In this case, although the appeal is consented to, the work on the spot,
meanwhile, thrives to perfection (vs. 5, 8). What are the reasons of this
striking difference? So far as second causes go, they will be found, we
believe, in two things, viz.,
1. In comparatively greater moderation on the part of the attack; and,
II. In comparatively greater vigor on the part of the defense.
Let us proceed to see how the whole story illustrates these two points.
Ø apparently not so general. Names we read of before (ch.4:7, 9),
such as Bishlam, etc., the Dinaites, etc., are now mentioned no
more. Tatnai and Shethar-boznai are acting, if not in ignorance,
yet in independence, of native ideas. So much so, that the only
“companions” mentioned in this case, the Apharsachites, are
supposed by some to be themselves “Persians” of some sort.
At any rate, all the other previous “companions” are only
conspicuous now by their absence. The present
movement is less formidable than the previous one both in
numbers and names. Also the attack is:
Ø less vital. There is no such plausible yet utterly fatal proposal for
cooperation in this instance as that we read of before; only certain
not unnatural and, all things considered, not disrespectful inquiries
are addressed to those engaged in so evidently important a work.
“Where is your authority for operations such as these? Who are
the persons who hold themselves really responsible for them.” (See
vs. 3-4, 9-10, reading “they” for “we” in ver. 4 with Septuagint,
Syriac, and Arabic versions, and even in the Chaldee with very
slight change.) These deputy rulers would have failed in their duty
if they had asked any less; even if we infer, as we must, from v. 5,
that their object in so doing, at any rate in the first instance,
was to “cause” the Jewish elders to “cease” for the time. Such
opposition, even so, is very different from that settled intention to
“frustrate” the Jewish “purpose” entirely of which we find traces
before (ch. 4:5). Once more, the attack is:
Ø less unreasonable and malignant. The answer of the elders to the
official inquiries put to them is heard with candor, and reported
with truth. Nor are any charges made, as before, of treachery or
sedition. Nor is anything more proposed to the king than a due
hearing and examination of the appeal which the Jews have made
to a previous edict of Cyrus in justification of their conduct (v. 17).
Meanwhile, moreover, though apparently with some reluctance, the
chief authorities of the province in which
consented to treat that justification as being, till proved otherwise,
sufficient and valid, by allowing that work to go on without
endeavoring to stop it by menace or force. In all this, if
there is something of opposition, as there undoubtedly is, it is not
like that of the previous occasion — not a wide conspiracy, not a
deadly aim, not a malignant effort, like that before.
Ø On the score of principle. “We are the servants of the God of heaven
and earth” (v. 11). In other words, “Do you ask our names? We are
named after the great God (see v. 8), the God of heaven and earth.
Do you ask why we are thus laboring? Because in doing so we serve
Him” (compare Acts 27:23). It was well for them to put this first,
like soldiers displaying the flag they fight under on entering into
the battle. “Before all things we wish you to understand that this
is a question with us of religion.”
Ø On the score of precedent. This was no novel idea that they were
engaged in promoting. They were not beginning, but restoring,
the temple. Many successive centuries (though these officials
were perhaps not aware of it) a glorious temple TO THE
GREAT GOD had stood on that place. Not only so, the man who
had originally “built” and “set it up” had been one of the
greatest of their kings. This was also a wise line to adopt. If they
were permitted to be Jews at all (as they certainly were), they might
not only be allowed to worship their own God (as already touched on),
but also to worship Him according to a long-established and truly
Ø On the score of necessity. Their national welfare and even existence
depended on the work they were engaged on. Long experience and
heavy affliction had brought home this truth to their hearts. Why had
their fathers gone into captivity? Why had the original house been
destroyed? Because their “fathers” had “provoked the God of heaven”
for years in connection with the worship of that house (v. 12; also
II Chronicles 36:14-20; Jeremiah 7:1-15, 30). On the restoration,
therefore, of the true worship of Jehovah, and, as a first step towards
that, on the restoration of this His house, depended, nationally, their
very life. The very permission, in fact, to rebuild it at all was a kind of
token of restored animation which it would be double death to neglect.
Ø On the score of authority. In all this they were acting, furthermore, as
good subjects of
who conquered “
decree to rebuild this house. Also, one of his first appointments the
appointment by name (v. 14) of a Jewish “governor” to see to this work.
Also, one of his first actions the very significant action of restoring the
Ø In the way of conclusion. All these things being so, was it to be
wondered at that “the same Sheshbazzar,” thus empowered and
equipped, had come to
rather to be wondered at that a work of such amazing importance
should have remained on hand for so long (v. 16)? Even “yet it is
not finished!” What a master-stroke was that to end with. “You ask
why we have done so much. As Persian officials, speaking to us as
Jews, rather ask why we have done so little.” Observe, in all this:
o The secret of spiritual deliverance. God delivers His people sometimes
by restraining their adversaries (Psalm 76:10; Proverbs 16:7);
sometimes by giving themselves special wisdom and courage (Luke
21:15; Acts 6:10); sometimes, as here, by doing both. How
comparatively tame these adversaries. How bold and wise these
defenders. How complete, therefore, even so far, the deliverance
granted (compare Acts 4:8-14, 21).
o The secret of spiritual courage. Why is it we fear man so much?
Because, as a rule, we fear God too little (Luke 12:4-5). How
different the case when, as here, we feel the “eye of our God”
to be “upon” us (v. 5). See also, in case previously referred to,
Acts 4:19, and 5:29; also Isaiah 51:12-13. Many feel a difficulty
in speaking for Christ. If they were more often in the habit of
speaking with Him the difficulty would greatly diminish. Possibly
it might even be found on the opposite side (see once more Acts 4:20).
o The secret of dealing with honest doubt; viz.,
§ listen to it, do not repel it;
§ confront it, do not avoid it;
§ enlighten it, do not despise it.
The reason why many are “skeptics” — i.e. (if they are so honestly)
merely “inquirers” — is because they do not know the strength of
the believer’s position. If you know it, as the true strength of their
position was known by the Jews before us, and can make it known
in turn to such “inquirers” with like courage and wisdom, you will
at least obtain their respect. It may also please God to cause your
effort to do even more (see II Timothy 2:24-25).
Wisdom in Trial (vs. 3-17)
Hardly had the Jews recommenced their work, when they again found
themselves subjected to a:
unfriendly neighbors came to the attack. They challenged their right to
build up the walls: “Who hath commanded you to build?” “By whose
authority do ye these things?” The names of the leading men were
demanded (v. 4), with a view of sending them on to the Persian court.
Pressure was evidently to be brought to bear on them to compel them to
desist. Accusations would certainly be made against them; ill feeling would
inevitably be fostered; prohibition would probably be issued; and, not
unlikely, there would be forfeiture of privileges if not loss of goods,
perchance of liberty. What, now, should they do? Should they again lay
down the saw and the trowel, leave the woodwork and the walls till a more
favored time, and content themselves with using the altar they had reared,
as hitherto? They were enjoying freedom in their own land, with liberty to
worship the Lord according to their ancient law; perhaps they would lose
everything by striving after more than they had. Should they yield to these
alarms presenting themselves in the form of prudence? or should they
dismiss them as cowardly fears, and go on with their work, confiding in the
help of Jehovah? Such distractions must have (or may have) agitated and
perplexed their minds. Such trials of faith we may expect when we have
entered the path of piety or the field of Christian work. Inexperience might
imagine that in a path so sacred and Divine the adversary would not be
allowed to enter. But experience knows that it is not so; that “there are
many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9) we must expect to encounter.
Not only from “them that are without,” but also from those that are within
the Church do obstacles, hindrances, discouragements arise. We may look
for sympathy, help, success, victory; and, behold! there meets us:
Shall we, we ask ourselves, retire as unfitted for what we have
undertaken? or shall we hold on our way, still grasp our weapon, trusting
that the insufficiency which is of man will be more than made up by the
sufficiency which is of God? But in this trial of faith we have, as they had:
elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease” (v. 5). Here
Ø a spiritual force working within them. They felt that their work was
marked of God. The active participation of His prophets in the work
(v.2) would help them to this. They realized that they were being
Divinely guided, and were engaged in the most sacred cause:
“We are servants of the God of heaven” (v. 11). They were wisely
conscious that past misdoings had led to penalty and suffering (v. 12).
They lived and wrought “as ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye;” and
because they felt that He who “looketh from heaven and beholdeth
all the sons of men” (Psalm 33:13) was continually regarding them,
accepting their service, recording their negligence and distrust, prepared
to reward or to rebuke, they were incited to continue, let their enemies
say or do what they please. The thought of God’s all-seeing eye, of His
all-searching glance, is one of the strongest spiritual forces which can
work within us. Man sees and blames. Man sees and threatens. Yes; but
God is an on-looker also, and an IN-LOOKER too. What does He see?
What does He think? What judgment is He forming? What does He
purpose? If He is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
But here was also:
Ø a Divine power working upon them. There is suggested here a
prompting, controlling influence exerted upon them from on high.
God saw them, and, beholding their difficulty and their need of His
Divine help, interposed to sustain their courage, to strengthen their
hand, to uphold them in their work. This is a power to be earnestly
sought, and found, in believing prayer, when we are passing through
the time of trial.
their case before the Persian authorities. They gave a fair representation of
the answer of the Jews to the royal court, and begged that steps should be
taken to confirm or disprove this their reply. “Now therefore, if it seem
good to the king, let there be search made in the king’s treasure house…
whether it be so” (v. 17). We may presume that the Jews knew the tenor
of this communication. We can picture to ourselves their anxiety to know
the result of the appeal. What if the record should not be found in the
Persian archives! What if some ignorant librarian failed to know where it
was kept! What if some venal officer should be bribed to get at it and
destroy it! etc., etc. Should they win or lose their case? It might, after all,
go ill with them and their work. It was a time of suspense. A very hard
time to go through. Souls that can endure all else know not how to be
tranquil then. (This is very true of waiting on tests for serious or terminal
illnesses! – CY – 2015) Then is the time to trust in God, to cast ourselves on
Him. When we can do nothing else, we can look up to heaven and wait the issue
calmly, because ALL ISSUES are in the hands of the holy and the mighty One.
“What time I am afraid I will trust in thee” (Psalm 56:3)
Things a Church should Understand Concerning Itself (vs. 11-17)
the servants of the God of heaven and earth” (v. 11).
Ø An exalted service. It is the service of God.
Ø An extensive service. It reaches in its influence throughout heaven and
Ø An arduous service. It is to rebuild a ruined temple in the midst of
Ø A humble service. At best the Church is but a servant.
COMMISSION OF SIN. “But after that our fathers had provoked the God
of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the
the Church is alone responsible for its weakness.
Ø Its destruction. “Who destroyed this house.” All this was attributable:
o Not to the Divine inability to help.
o Not to the Divine lack of interest.
o But to the Divine displeasure on account of sin.
Let the Church understand and acknowledge that her sad condition before
the world is due to her lack of fidelity; she must take the discredit of her
WONDROUS REDEMPTION. “But in the first year of Cyrus” (v. 13).
Ø The fact of redemption. The Israelites were delivered from Babylonian
captivity. The Church has been set free from sin by Christ.
The history of
redemption. The history of
written in the records of
written in the Bible; it is an earthly record as well as a heavenly history. It
is in the annals of
(Revelation 13:8; 17:8).
Ø The research of redemption. “Let there be search made” (v. 17;
I Peter 1:12).
Ø The pleasure of redemption. “And let the king send his pleasure to us
concerning this matter.” God’s pleasure is man’s freedom.
“And since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is
not finished” (v. 16). It is indeed true that the Church is as yet engaged in
an unfinished enterprise; all its temples are not built; its walls are not
erected; Jesus does not yet see all things put under Him.
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