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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Ezra 5

3. The delay in construction ch. 5

As a result of Samaritan intimidation (Ezra 4:1-5), the restoration Jews stopped building the temple in 536 B.C. (Ezra 4:24), and did little work on it until 520 B.C. The Jews should have persevered because Cyrus had supported their efforts to rebuild it. Artaxerxes’ work stoppage order (Ezra 4:21) came much later, in 446 B.C., and suspended work on the walls of Jerusalem, not the temple.

"Like every spiritual advance, from Abraham’s to the missionary expansion in Acts, this venture began with a word from the Lord. And in common with the rest, it was quickly tested and threatened." [Note: Kidner, p. 53.]

Verses 1-2

The resumption of work 5:1-2

The Book of Haggai contains four messages that Haggai delivered to the returned exiles in 520 B.C. We know from what he said that the people had turned from their commitment to rebuild the temple, to constructing comfortable houses for themselves (Haggai 1:2-11). The prophet Zechariah joined Haggai in encouraging the people to give God’s interests priority over their own (Ezra 5:1).

"There is always an effective answer to discouragement in the bold proclamation of the word of God." [Note: McConville, p. 32.]

In response to the ministries of these prophets, the people began to rebuild the temple again (Ezra 5:2; Haggai 1:12-14) in 520 B.C. (Ezra 4:24).

Verses 3-5

Tattenai’s question 5:3-5

The text does not say if the Jews’ antagonistic neighbors had provoked Tattenai, the governor of the Persian province in which Jerusalem stood, to ask to see the Jews’ temple building permit. It simply says he asked to see it. The Jews kept the construction work going while Tattenai determined whether they had authority to build.

Tattenai had reason to question the Jews’ actions without prodding from the Samaritans. The Persian Empire had undergone political upheaval since Cyrus’ death in 530 B.C. Cyrus’ son and successor, Cambyses, had to put down several rebellions against his authority. This involved his executing his brother, Smerdis. An Egyptian nobleman, Gaumata, then claimed to be the true Smerdis and revolted against Cambyses. Popular opinion swung behind Gaumata, and Cambyses committed suicide in 522 B.C. However, the Persian army supported a distant cousin of Cambyses named Darius I (Hystaspes). Darius was able to overthrow Gaumata and to put down several other claimants to the throne, as well as rebellions in many different parts of the empire. [Note: A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, pp. 107-16.] In view of these events, it is easy to see why Tattenai would have been suspicious of any attempt to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and why he wrote to Darius for instructions.

Another reason for Tattenai’s concern may very well have been what Zechariah was prophesying. He said that the "Branch," the long-expected descendant of David’s line, would soon appear and sit on David’s throne (Zechariah 3:8; cf. Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6). What Zechariah predicted of Messiah seemed to fit Zerubbabel to a tee (Zechariah 6:9-15).

Verses 6-17

Tattenai’s letter 5:6-17

In contrast to Rehum and Shimshai’s letter to Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:11-16), Tattenai’s letter to Darius was fair and objective. He gave no indication of wanting to stop the Jews’ project. He only wanted to know if Cyrus had really given permission for the Jews to rebuild the temple and if Darius wanted that edict to stand.

The record of this letter in the text shows that high-ranking government officials had observed God’s care of His chosen people. This would have encouraged the original readers of Ezra with the assurance that what they had done was honest, and that God was moving governors and kings to accomplish His will (cf. Proverbs 21:1).

Opposition to Temple Construction
Ezra 4-5
ScriptureThe form it tookWhat it testedHow they reacted
Ezra 4:1-2 (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14)Israel’s enemies offered to help.Their wisdomZerubbabel declined the offer.
Ezra 4:4-5 (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7)They discouraged and frightened the builders.Their faithThe Jews trusted God and pressed on.
Ezra 4:6-23 (cf. Matthew 16:18)They tried legal action and red tape.Their patienceGod gave a favorable decision through Artaxerxes, and Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the Jews.
Ezra 5:3 (cf. Matthew 28:19-20)They demanded proof of authority to build.Their perseveranceThe builders kept on working.

". . . against the background of rampant polytheism or even the dualism of newly emerging Zoroastrianism it was important to affirm that Yahweh is Lord of all in heaven and on earth. To their enemies the Jews affirmed this when they announced that they were building the second Temple as the ’servants of the God of heaven and earth’ (Ezra 5:11)." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," p. 191.]

"The God of heaven is probably an attempt by the Jews to create sympathy for their cause in the Persian court, because Ahuramazda, the Persian god, was also regarded as ’god of the heaven,’ and was known as the creator of heaven and earth." [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p. 83.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezra 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ezra-5.html. 2012.