“Then, according to the word sent by King Darius, Governor Tattenai of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what King Darius had ordered. The elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by the decree of King Cyrus, King Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia. This house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.”
The leaders from Samaria were diligent in following the orders of King Darius. The elders at Jerusalem under the guidance and support of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah finished building the Temple. It is not clear where all the labor came from. Nevertheless, by the command of God, King Cyrus, King Darius, and even King Artaxerxes they completed the house of God in the 6th year of the reign of King Darius I that would be around 516 BCE. However, if it was King Darius II, it would be a century later around 418 BCE. The time of King Darius I of 516 BCE is more plausible, yet there was that dispute about the wall with King Artaxerxes.
“Now you, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and you, their associates, the envoys in the province Beyond the River, keep away! Let the work on this house of God alone! Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site! Moreover I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these people in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. Whatever is needed, whether it is young bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, let it be given to them. Whatever wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require, let that be given to them day by day without fail. Thus they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven. They may pray for the life of the king and his sons. Furthermore I decree that if any one alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house. He then will be impaled on this beam. That house shall be made a dunghill. May the God who has established his name there overthrow any king or people who shall put forth a hand to alter this decree or to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, make a decree. Let it be done with all diligence.”
The decree of King Darius is very simple and clear. Let them build their Temple. The governor in Samaria and all the envoys should be subject to this decree. Leave the Jews in Jerusalem alone. Not only that, they should be paid to build this house out of the money from the treasury of the Province Beyond the River. In fact, they should be provided animals and materials to offer sacrifices of burnt offerings and grain offerings. They will pray for the king and his sons. Now the kicker is that if anyone alters this decree a beam shall be taken from his house. He then would be impaled on his own house beam. Their house would then become a dung hill. That is some punishment for disobedience. King Darius said that this should be done right away. There was a mention of an unnamed Jewish governor. Now we see the great dispute is about money.
“This is a record. In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus issued a decree. Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices are offered and burnt offerings are brought. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three courses of hewn stones and one course of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. Moreover, let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which King Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place. You shall put them in the house of God.”
However, the scroll is very specific as to the size, length, and materials to be used in the building of this Temple in Jerusalem. It is different from the edict of King Cyrus in chapter 1 of this book. This new Temple In Jerusalem was to be 90 feet by 90 feet or 30 square yards, a third the size of an American football size, quite small. The cost of this rebuilding project should come from the royal treasury. Thus Persia was paying for the rebuilding of the Temple. There would be no need for free will offerings. This may have been the kicker causing the dispute between Samaria and Jerusalem. King Cyrus clearly stated that the golden vessels taken by King Nebuchadnezzar should be returned to the Temple of God in Jerusalem. There is no ambiguity here.
“Then King Darius made a decree. They searched the archives where the documents were stored in Babylon. However, it was in Ecbatana, the capital which is in the province of Media, that a scroll was found on which this was written.”
King Darius decreed that a search should be made in the archives at Babylon for the scroll of King Cyrus. Guess what? Very conveniently, King Darius found the scroll from King Cyrus in Ecbatana in Media, which was the summer home of the king. Media was on the Caspian Sea and had become part of Persia, after being independent before that. Also King Darius had a residence there. Why it was there is not clear, except that King Cyrus may have issued it from there.
“Therefore, if it seems good to the king, to have a search made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by King Cyrus for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. Let the king send us his pleasure in this matter.”
They had a simple solution. Look up the royal archives to see if they can find this decree of King Cyrus. They would do whatever the king decided. This would seem to indicate the later date for the building of the Temple. No one seemed to know about a decree from King Cyrus. The people in Samaria were going to wait until he heard from the king in this matter.
“This was their reply to us. ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth. We are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our ancestors had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia. However, King Cyrus of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. Moreover, the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which King Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem and had brought into the temple of Babylon, these King Cyrus took out of the temple of Babylon. They were delivered to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor. He said to him. ‘Take these vessels! Go and put them in the temple in Jerusalem! Let the house of God be rebuilt on its site!’ Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. From that time until now it has been under construction. It is not yet finished.’”
Governor Tattenai gave the Jewish side of the story, explaining why they were doing such a thing as building a house of God. They were rebuilding the house of God on the same spot where the Temple used to be. Their ancestors had angered God, so that the Chaldeans with King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple and took the people into captivity. Then King Cyrus issued a decree that the Temple be built again. In fact, he gave the gold and silver vessels that originally came from Jerusalem that were in the Babylonian temple to Sheshbazzar, who was the governor in Jerusalem. Thus for the last few years, they have been building this unfinished Temple.
“The copy of the letter that Governor Tattenai of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and his associates, the envoys, that were in the province Beyond the River sent to King Darius. They sent him a report, in which was written as follows: ‘To King Darius, all peace! May it be known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built of hewn stone. Timber is laid in the walls. This work is being done diligently. It prospers in their hands. Then we spoke to those elders and asked them. ‘Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?’ We also asked them their names, for your information, so that we might write down the names of the men at their head.’”
Once again, we have a letter from a Persian official in Samaria to the king of Persia, asking for advice on what to do. This time Governor Tattenai and his assistant Shethar-bozenai sent the report. They offer peace, not just greeting. This letter is specifically about the house of God being built in province of Judah. It does not say Jerusalem. Stone and wood are already there. He seems to imply that it is in capable hands. However, he had some questions.
“At the same time Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them. They spoke to them thus. ‘Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?’ They also asked them this. ‘What are the names of the men who are building this building?’ But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews. They did not stop them until a report reached King Darius. Then the answer should be returned by letter in reply to it.”
The governor, who is called Tattenai and not Rehum, as in the preceding chapter, came to ask what was going on. Governor Tattenai appears in some archeological documents as the Governor of the Province Beyond the River. He either followed Rehum or preceded him depending on how you view which King Darius was in charge. Shethar-bozenai must have the role like the scribe Shimshai had. They wanted to know who decreed that this building should be built and who was building it. The people in Jerusalem did not reply but said they would respond to the king if asked.
“Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set out to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. With them were the prophets of God, helping them.”
Haggai and Zechariah are the names of prophetic books of the Bible. So unlike Isaiah and, Jeremiah, they are known as part of the 12 Minor Prophets. Now we are back to Zerubbabel and Jeshua as in chapter 3 and the building of the foundation of the Temple. These two prophets were now helping and encouraging them to build the Temple. It appears that those objections in the preceding chapter may have come after the start of the rebuilding of the Temple since those objections were about the wall of Jerusalem, rather than the Temple itself.
“At that time the work on the house of God in Jerusalem stopped. It was discontinued until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.”
Now we have a problem. There was nothing about stopping the building of the Temple in these 2 letters. It was about the fortifications of the city. On top of that we are back at King Darius who preceded King Artaxerxes by 20 years. Is this a reference to King Darius II, who followed King Artaxerxes? Here are the dates for the ruling kings of Persia. This would put the building of the temple around 423 BCE not 521 BCE. The Persian kings ruled from the following years.
Cyrus the Great – 559-530 BCE – letter to go back to build Temple
Cambyses – 530-522 BCE – no comments
Darius I – 522 -486 BCE – complaints to him
Xerxes I – 485-465 BCE – complaints to him
Artaxerxes I – 465-424 BCE – letter saying to stop wall building