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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 5

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The opposition of the people of the land had succeeded in weakening the purpose of Israel to rebuild the temple. As we learn from Haggai and others of the Minor Prophets, the lack of zeal and devotion on the part of God’s people themselves had also contributed to this long delay (Haggai 1:2-11). Under the urgent admonitions of Haggai, both Zerubbabel and Jeshua rose up and vigorously began work on the temple. The foundation had been laid much earlier, but that foundation was probably little more than a ground-breaking that projected the size of the structure but did little else.

Also a new governor, operating from his headquarters in Damascus, under the authority of the Persian ruler who, at this time was Darius Hystaspes, was in charge of the satrapy that included Palestine. The governor was Tattenai, a far more noble person than the evil Rehum, a governor who came much later, and whose sympathies were totally in favor of the Samaritans and who was bitterly opposed to Israel.

We may be sure that when work was resumed on the temple that the Samaritans went immediately to Damascus to enlist the aid of the new governor in stopping it. Tattenai, however, refused to take any action against the temple work until he had consulted his overlord Darius I.

This chapter provides the sacred record of these developments.

Verses 1-2


“Now 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, prophesied they unto them. 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.”

“Now the prophets” The record here does not mention what the prophets prophesied; but it is clear that they demanded that the Jews resume work on their temple. (See Vol. 3 of our Commentaries on the Minor Prophets (Haggai), pp. 187-197, for a discussion of just how urgent the message of the prophets was.) At any rate, Israel heeded it, and began to build the temple.

“Haggai… and Zechariah” “The work on the temple was renewed only three weeks after Haggai began preaching, which was Sept. 20, 520 B.C.”(F1) “Zerubbabel is highly honored in Haggai and in Zechariah 4; Jeshua is honored in Zechariah 3 and Zechariah 6.”(F2)

“And began to build the house of God” This supports our view that the first laying of the foundation was a very elementary thing. Haggai complained that the house of God “lay in waste” (Haggai 1:4); and that is the same terminology that was used after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it. Furthermore, as Hamrick pointed out, “Haggai 1:12-15 does not mention any previous attempt to build the temple; and this probably means that Sheshbazzar’s beginnings had been so meager that the project had to be started anew.”(F3)

Verses 3-5


“At the same time came to them Tattenai, the governor beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai, and their companions, and said unto them, Who gave you a decree to build this house, and to finish this wall? Then we told them after this manner, what the names of the men were that were making this building. But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, and they did not make them cease, till the matter should come to Darius, and then answer should be returned by letter concerning it.”

“At the same time… came Tattenai” “The Persian Empire at that time was divided into twenty satrapies, presided over by governors under the authority of Darius. The territory ruled by Tattenai included Syria, Palestine, Phoenicia and Cyprus.”(F4) This satrapy was called Syria, and Tattenai’s capital was Damascus. We do not have to wonder how he happened to appear at that particular time when the Jews had taken up work on the temple. That evil racial mix of ten strains of people under the title of Samaritans had run like the tattletales they were to inform the governor against Israel. They found a governor who was fair-minded and who refused to become their instrument of hatred against Israel. He allowed the work to proceed until he could consult Darius the king.

“The governor beyond the River” “Beyond the River” in Ezra is always a reference to the territory west of the Euphrates. The perspective is from that of Darius’ capital in Babylon, or Shushan.

“Shethar-bozenai” This man was apprently the secretary of Tattenai, just as, at a later time, Shimshai was the secretary of Rehum.

“The eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews” The providence of God most certainly entered into this new development; however, God’s instrument of blessing Israel here was in His appointment of Tattenai, a governor who would not be controlled or manipulated by the evil Samaritans.

Verses 6-17


“The copy of the letter that Tattenai the governor beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai, and his companions the Apharsachites, who were beyond the River, sent unto Darius the king; they sent a letter unto him, wherein was written thus: Unto Darius the king, all peace. Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judah, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls; and this work goeth on with diligence and prospereth in their hands. Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who gave you a decree to build this house, and to finish this wall? We asked them their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were at the head of them. And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and are building the house that was builded there many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and finished. But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon. But in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree to build this house of God. And the gold and silver vessels also of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought 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; and he said unto him, Take these vessels, go, put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be buUded in its place. Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundations of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time, even until now, hath it been in building, yet it is not completed. 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.”

One must admit that this letter is a fair and honorable presentation of the truth as Tattenai laid it out before Darius the king. What a contrast there is here with that prejudiced and derogatory letter that the evil governor Rehum would, at a later time, send to Artaxerxes.

“Builded with great stones” “The Hebrew here is rolling stones, that is, stones so large that they would have to be moved by rolling them on rollers.”(F5) Dummelow gave the dimensions of some of those stones as “Sixty-seven feet long, seven and one half feet high, and nine feet wide.”(F6)

“Sheshbazzar” This is the man to whom was counted the sacred vessels that he restored to Israel, even those that Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the Temple of Solomon. He was evidenly Cyrus’ man in charge of that first expedition to Jerusalem; and scholars differ on just what connection he had with Zerubbabel. Hamrick thought that he might have been the same person as Zerubbabel,(F7) in which case his Babylonian name might have been Sheshbazzar. However, the opinion of Cundall may be correct: “If Sheshbazzar was the Persian appointed leader, it would account for the fact that in this official communication he would be tactfully mentioned as the one who laid the foundations of the Temple, whereas Zerubbabel, the popular leader would be given the prominence in the domestic account.”(F8)

“Let there be search made… whether it be so… that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build the house of God at Jerusalem” This was the key request of Darius by Tattenai. If indeed it was true that Cyrus had made such a decree, then according to the Medo-Persian tradition it was impossible to change it. Daniel twice referred to the “Law of the Medes and Persians which altereth not” (Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12). Daniel commented that, “It is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed” (Daniel 6:15). If the projected search proposed by Tatrenal revealed that Cyrus indeed had made such a decree as the Jews claimed, then it was settled; the law could not be changed.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezra 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ezra-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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