“At that time those who had come from captivity, the returned exiles, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel, twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and as a sin offering twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to Yahweh. They also delivered the king’s commissions to the governors of the province Beyond the River. They supported the people and the house of God.”
This group then got together. They offered burnt offerings to God for their successful return to Jerusalem. This included 12 bulls, 96 rams, 77 lambs, and 12 goats. Notice the 12 bulls and 12 goats as a remembrance of the 12 now non-existant 12 tribes of Israel. This was a burnt offering. Notice the change from a first person narrative to a third person explanation. They also reported to the governors of the Province Beyond the River, which would have been in Samaria. Meanwhile they supported the people there and the Temple.
“You, Ezra, according to the God-given wisdom you possess, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, who know the laws of your God. You shall teach those who do not know them. All those who will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed upon him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of their goods or for imprisonment.”
Ezra is like a mini King Solomon because he has God-given wisdom. Thus the king is going to make him like the governor of Jerusalem. He was going to appoint magistrates and judges for the Province Beyond the River. However, the seat of power was in Samaria so that there may be some conflict here. Ezra was going to teach the judges the laws of God. Everyone had to obey the law of God and the king. Ezra was to administer justice by death, banishment, confiscation of good, or imprisonment. Clearly, Ezra had an important role as the king’s man on site.
“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.
“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.
“King Artaxerxes sent an answer. ‘To Rehum, the royal deputy, and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. Now the letter that you sent to us has been read in translation before me. So I made a decree. Someone searched and discovered that this city has risen against kings from long ago. Rebellion and sedition have been made in it. Jerusalem had mighty kings who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. Therefore issue an order that these people be made to cease. This city shall not be rebuilt, until I make a decree. Moreover, take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?’”
The king had an answer. He had the letter read to him in translation. He had someone check the annals or records. Sure enough, there was a mighty king of Jerusalem who ruled beyond the river. This might have been a reference to King David or King Solomon. Therefore he told them to issue an order to make them stop building the wall. Nothing should be built without his decree. He warned them not to be slack in this matter.
“This is a copy of the letter that they sent. ‘To King Artaxerxes: Your servants, the people of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. Now may it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now may it be known to the king that, if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll. The royal revenue will be reduced. Now because we share the salt of the palace, it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor. Therefore we send and inform the king, so that a search may be made in the annals of your ancestors. You will discover in the annals that this is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces. Sedition was stirred up in it from long ago. On that account the city was laid waste. We make known to the king that, if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.’”
This supposedly is a copy of the letter that the Persian officials at Samaria had sent to the king of Persia. It is written from the Province Beyond the River that is west of the Euphrates River. They recited the history of Jerusalem that led to its destruction in the 6th century BCE because of its rebellious way, about a century earlier. They referred to the annals or books where things were written down. There must have been some king of history of each king in the various countries. The objection here is not to the temple being built, but to the fortification of the city walls of Jerusalem. If the walls were rebuilt there would be no revenue from there.
“In the days of King Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel with the rest of their associates wrote to King Artaxerxes of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated. Rehum the royal deputy commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes as follows. The address was, Rehum the royal deputy, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the envoys, the officials, the Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the people of Susa, that is, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River.”
This next section was in Aramaic, not Hebrew. King Artaxerxes ruled from 464-423 BCE. There does not seem to be any dispute about his name. Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel may have been Persian officials in Samaria. They sent a letter to King Artaxerxes in Aramaic. This letter was written by Shimshai the scribe under the direction of the Persian deputy commander Rehum in Samaria to the king in Persia. This was an official letter from the local government in Samaria to the king. This was in the Province Beyond the River, which actually means west of the Euphrates River, not the Jordan River. So this was an important place. Apparently it was King Osnappar who had established this rule in Samaria at the time of the Babylonian captivity. This probably refers to King Assurbanipal who ruled from 668-630 BCE.