The role of Zerubbabel (Zech 4:6-4:7)

“Then he said to me.

‘This is the word of Yahweh

To Zerubbabel.

Not by might,

Not by power,

But by my Spirit.’

Says Yahweh of hosts.

‘O great mountain!

What are you?

Before Zerubbabel,

You shall become a plain.

He shall bring out

The top stone

Amid shouts of

‘Grace!

Grace to it!’”

The angel who had been talking to Zechariah explained that the word of Yahweh was going to come to Zerubbabel, the man appointed by King Cyrus of Persia.  Zerubbabel was going to be successful, but not by his might and power, but by the Holy Spirit of Yahweh.  The great mountain would become a plain before Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah.  He was going to bring out the top stone of the mountain to cheers of grace to all.

The call of Cyrus (Isa 46:10-46:11)

“Yahweh said.

‘My purpose shall stand.

I will finish my intention.’

I am calling a bird of prey

From the east.

I am calling the man

Of my purpose

From a far country.

I have spoken.

I will bring it to pass.

I have planned it.

I will do it.’”

Second Isaiah once again insists that Yahweh has called the bird of prey from the East in a far country, King Cyrus of Persia, for his own purpose. He was going to make sure that Cyrus could finish off his intentions and purposes. He has said this, and so it shall be. He has planned it, and so it will happen, no questions asked.

Yahweh predicts the invader from the north (Isa 41:25-41:29)

“I stirred up one from the north.

He has come.

From the rising of the sun,

He was summoned by name.

He shall trample on rulers

Like on mortar,

Like the potter treads clay.

Who declared it from the beginning?

We might know before time.

We might say.

‘He is right!’

There was none

Who declared it.

None who proclaimed it.

None who heard your words.

I first have declared it to Zion.

I give to Jerusalem

A herald of good tidings.

But when I look

There is no one.

Among these,

There is no counselor.

When I ask,

Who gives an answer?

No!

They are all a delusion.

Their works are nothing.

Their images are empty wind.”

Although most interpret this passage as the predicting the victory of King Cyrus of Persia, his name is never explicitly mentioned. He is an invader from the northeast, which could be Persia. Second Isaiah says that he was summoned by name, but no name is mentioned. This invader was going to trample underfoot the rulers, as if they were like mortar or potter’s clay. This was an indication of things to come. No one else is talking about the future. However, Second Isaiah and Yahweh had declared this herald of good tidings in Jerusalem. There was no one with advice, no one to give an answer. Their works were all an empty delusion because all their false image idols were like an empty wind.

The obstruction of the Samaritans under King Cyrus (Ezra 4:4-4:5)

“Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah. They made them afraid to build. They bribed officials to frustrate their plans throughout the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, even until the reign of King Darius of Persia.”

The ‘people of the land’ was the derogatory phrase often used to describe the Samaritans. These were part of the poor landless people who were not taken into captivity. Somehow they made the returning Israelites afraid. They discouraged them. It is not clear what they did. They, however, did hire or bribe officials to present their cause to King Cyrus of Persia. See, those city planning boards are over 2,500 years old. Bribery is as old as anything. Apparently, they were successful as long as King Cyrus and King Darius were alive. This would bring us to about 485 BCE. Somehow they were able to frustrate this project of the Jerusalem temple for over 50 years. Clearly this area was still under Persian rule with the local Persian seat of power in Samaria, not Jerusalem.

The meeting with their adversaries (Ezra 4:1-4:3)

“When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to Yahweh, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of families. They said to them. ‘Let us build with you. We worship your God as you do. We have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of King Esarhaddon of Assyria who brought us here.’ However, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them. ‘You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God. We alone will build to Yahweh, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.’”

Into this wonderful setting of great joy entered the problem of those who were left behind, the so called poor people. A new group of adversaries arose, the inhabitants of the land who had not gone into captivity. They began to be upset at these new immigrants to their land. On top of that these northern groups of Samaritans were considered inferior to the people of Judah and Benjamin. In fact, all the other Israelite tribes were now not as good as these two groups. This adversarial group seemed to be part of the swap of inhabitants in the north in the 7th century BCE. King Esarhaddon of Assyria was the son of Sennacherib, who took over when his brothers killed their father in Babylon. These inhabitants of the land wanted to help build the Temple. The response of Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the others was no, because they alone were to build this Temple according to the decree of King Cyrus. This was not a happy meeting.

 

The renewal of worship (Ezra 3:1-3:7)

“When the seventh month came, as the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, set out to build the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to offer burnt offerings upon it, as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. They set up the altar on its foundations, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples. They offered burnt offerings upon it to Yahweh, morning and evening. They kept the festival of booths, as prescribed. They offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day. After that they had the continual regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the sacred festivals of Yahweh. They also had the contributions of everyone who made a freewill offering to Yahweh. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to Yahweh. But the foundation of the temple of Yahweh was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, as well as food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant which they had from King Cyrus of Persia.”

It is difficult to say in what year this took place, either in the 2nd year of King Darius I of Persia around 520 BCE or in 2nd year of King Cyrus, which would it around 538 or 539 BCE. The King Cyrus date seems correct. However, it is difficult to put an exact date on this great assembly. The month and date are clear the 1st day of the 7th month, but the year is not. This was the assembly for the fall festival of booths or tents, which was quite appropriate since they had not yet established a permanent residence. There is the same confusion about Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar and whether they are one in the same. Here it is Zerubbabel. The chief priest was Jeshua who was the 2nd in command after Zerubbabel in the preceding chapter. They built an altar so that the various sacrifices could be made there. This altar was where the foundation was to be for the new Temple since it had not yet been built. Finally like King David and King Solomon they made arrangements with the northern people of Lebanon in Tyre and Sidon to bring cedar wood by sea to Joppa. They had some kind of grant from the King Cyrus of Persia, which would put this at the earlier date of their first arrival.

King Cyrus of Persia (Ezra 1:1-1:1)

“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Yahweh stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia. Thus he sent a herald throughout his entire kingdom and also in a written edict.”

This is the exactly the same as the ending of 2 Chronicles, chapter 36.  This has led some to believe that it is the same author. It certainly seems to fit in better here, since this is the book of the return from exile. Ezra seems to indicate that Cyrus was a nice guy. Who is this King Cyrus? King Cyrus the Great was part of the Achaemenid dynasty that ruled Persia or present day Iran from the 9th century BCE. King Cyrus was the son of King Cambyses I, whose grandfather was King Cyrus I. Thus he became known as King Cyrus II, Cyrus the Great. He was probably born in 576 BCE, as he extended his father’s empire into Asia Minor to the Indus River. He ruled Persia from 539-530 BCE, when he died. He actually had been the leader since 559 BCE but the empire was not that big. He finally captured Babylon and Assyria around 540 BCE. He was extremely tolerant in religion as indicated in this passage about letting the people from Jerusalem return. Actually, he is doing this because Yahweh stirred up his spirit of King Cyrus so that he would fulfill the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Thus King Cyrus issued an oral and written decree influenced by Yahweh. Thus Yahweh even had an influence on the non-Jewish people.