Ezra 5






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 Persia, by which the Pseudo-Smerdis was

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 Judah and Jerusalem in

the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.”  Zechariah the son of Iddo.

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

Divine Providence ordains and permits events; in the use we make of them

our character reveals itself, here our responsibility lies. The letter of

Artaxerxes effectually prevented the progress of the building: “then ceased

the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem.” No prophet rebuked

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 Assyria. They

                        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 Persian empire did little to organize it.”

                        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 Jerusalem.”


  • THE MORAL HINDRANCES. The people were reluctant to resume

            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

                        Jerusalem is assured (ibid. ch.8:1-8).


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

                        by them.


Practical Lessons:


  • Since circumstances so intimately affect our moral and spiritual life, the

            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.


  • Let all circumstances be rightly used by us. There are virtues, as well as

            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.


  • Our responsibility for the use we make of varying circumstances. These

            may master us or we may master them. Our ability to read the “signs of the

            timesis 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

Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.”

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);

andthe 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 Zerubbabeland

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 Roman empire as being founded by Augustus

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:


o       the indications of Providence, we shall find, in the first place; and

o       the voice of prophecy, in the next.


·         THE INDICATIONS OF PROVIDENCE. Providence had spoken to the

            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

            Israel to have more than “constructive” calls from God’s throne. He was

            graciously pleased to make known His will to them by articulate speech

            (Deuteronomy 4:33; Romans 3:1-2). So, accordingly, it was here.

            Besides these silent gestures on the part of Providence, so to call them,

            there were direct verbal utterances also from the lips of those who were

            authorized to speak to Israel in His name. Two such men, two of these

            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 Israel which

            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, interpret Providence,

                        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 Gods 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 Israel pointed forward in manifold ways to the coming and work of

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

family of Israel, as their peculiar crown and salvation, and as a blessing to

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 Persia.” Thus the work was stopped for about sixteen years.

“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 Israel,” that there was no doubt

      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 Gods 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 temple of Solomon (see Haggai

                                    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:


  • SLACKNESS. “Then ceased the work,” etc. (ch. 4:24). We have here the

            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.


  • REPROOF (v. 1). “Then the prophets… prophesied,” etc. How

            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)


  • RECOVERY. “Then rose up Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and began to

            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.





                                    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 Syria, and Shethar-boznai, or Sitrabarzanes, a

Persian noble probably, at this time took the lead, and learning that the building

was making progress, came in person to Jerusalem, and demanded to know

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

the year that he became king of Babylon (v. 13); whereupon a second

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

themselvesJerusalem is “the rebellious and the bad city” (ch.

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 Euphrates; Zerubbabel was pechah

of Judah only. A Greek writer would have called the one “satrap of Syria,” the

othersub-satrap of Judaea.” It was the duty of Tatuai to watch the proceedings

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,

vs. 9-10).


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 Israel(v. 1).


Ø      It advances in the Divine Name. These two prophets came to Israel in

                        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.


Ø      It recognizes the Divine Covenant. These two prophets came to Israel

     as the covenant people engaged in a great work; a faithful ministry is for

     the Church in its redemptive relationships.



            The building operations of Israel had ceased; Israel had settled down to an

            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

                        hear Him.


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

                        inspire Israel with duty and courage. Four men can do what two cannot

                        (Mark 2:3). In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom and (“safety.”

                        Proverbs 11:14; 24:6)





Ø      Productive work. “To build the house of God” (v. 2). But for these

                        two prophets it is likely that Israel would have continued to dwell

                        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.



            ENTERPRISE IT CONTEMPLATES. “Then the prophets, Haggai the

            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.”

                        Providence is cooperative with a faithful ministry, and helps to

                        overcome all hindrances.



                                    The Eye of God (vs. 3-5)


The “people of the land” procured authority from the Persian king to stop

the rebuilding of the city and wall of Jerusalem, and used it to stop the

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 Egypt (Exodus 3:7-

                        10). Also, for the tears of Hezekiah (II Kings 20:5). So He pitied His

                        people in Babylon, and His eye of pity is over them here.


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 Euphrates, then he would

                        be over the provinces of Syria, Arabia Deserta, Phoenicia, and Samaria.

                        If the Jordan, then still a great personage. There was Shethar-boznai,

                        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

            the Jews.”


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



Ø      Providence awakens a persistent spirit in the Church. “They could not

                        cause them to cease.”

Ø      Providence inspires the Church with right views of its citizenship. “Till

                        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.

Ø      Providence uses the incidental processes of life for the welfare of the

                        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

                        Israel. God causes all the little processes of life to work for the good of

                        His people. Thus God’s aid renders the Church victorious over enemies.




            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

            Providence. Let the Church take hope, FOR THE EYE OF GOD IS

            UPON IT!


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 province of Judea,

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 province of Judaea. It has been supposed on the strength of

a doubtful passage in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:7), that Tatnai ordinarily resided

at Jernsalem.  But this expression indicates the contrary. Most probably the

satrap of Syria held his court at Damascus. The house of the great God is a

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 Israel builded and set

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

Israel builded and set up. Solomon, the greatest of the Jewish monarchs,

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

Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the

people away into Babylon.” Our fathers provoked the God of heaven unto wrath.

Mainly by their long series of idolatries, with the moral abominations that

those idolatries involved:


  • the sacrifice of children by their own parents,
  • the licentious rites belonging to the worship of Baal, and
  •  the unmentionable horrors practiced by the devotees of the Dea Syra.


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

in Jerusalem (II Chronicles 36:14). Therefore, He gave them into the hand of

Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. He punished, as He always does,


idolatrous people, but a less guilty one, His sword, He cut off Judah, as He had

previously cut off Israel, causing the national life to cease, and even removing

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 Babylon the same king

Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.”  Recent discoveries

of contract tablets have shown that at Babylon Cyrus bore the

title of “king of Babylon from the date of his conquest of the city. The

same title was passed on to his successors, Cambyses, Darius, etc. Hence

we find Artaxerxes Longimanus called “king of Babylon by Nehemiah

(Nehemiah 13:6).


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 temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king

take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto

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

at Babylon they were a tangible evidence of the conquest, a glory to the

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 temple of Babylon, out of which Cyrus took them, see the

comment ibid.


15 “And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the

temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded 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 in Jerusalem: and since that time even until

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 Babylon, whether it

be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house

of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us

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

a similar collection near Babylon, which yielded from 3000 to 4000 tablets

(‘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

day recovered.



                                    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.


  • A WEAKER ATTACK. For example, it was:


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 Judaea was situated have

                        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.


  • A STRONGER DEFENCE. The answer of the Jewish elders was a

            good one:


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

                        national manner.


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 Persia. One of the first decrees of that king of Persia

                        who conquered Babylon and became its “king” (see v. 13) was a

                        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

                        temple vessels.


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 Jerusalem and begun the work? Was it not

                        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:


  • TRIAL OF FAITH. “At the same time,” etc. (v. 3). Again their

            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:

Ø      conflict,

Ø      disappointment,

Ø      defeat.

            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:


  • A TWOFOLD INCENTIVE. “The eye of their God was upon the

            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.


  • A TIME OF SUSPENSE (vs. 13-17). Their adversaries now laid

            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

            king of Babylon (v. 12). This is the best confession a Church can have;

            the Church is alone responsible for its weakness.


Ø      Its degradation. Israel is subject to a heathen power.

Ø      Its suffering. Israel is in captivity.

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

            broken temples.



            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.


Ø      The history of redemption. The history of Israel’s deliverance was

                        written in the records of Babylon. The history of redemption by Christ is

                        written in the Bible; it is an earthly record as well as a heavenly history. It

                        is in the annals of Babylon as well as in the annals of God from eternity

                        (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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