1Then the LORD God of Israel told the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to speak in his name to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. And they did.2So Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the priest urged the people to start working on the temple again, and God's prophets encouraged them.
3Governor Tattenai of Western Province and his assistant Shethar Bozenai got together with some of their officials. Then they went to Jerusalem and said to the people, “Who told you to rebuild this temple?4Give us the names of the workers!”
5But God was looking after the Jewish leaders. So the governor and his group decided not to make the people stop working on the temple until they could report to Darius and get his advice.
6Governor Tattenai, Shethar Bozenai, and their advisers sent a report to Darius,7which said:
King Darius, we wish you the best!8We went to Judah, where the temple of the great God is being built with huge stones and wooden beams set in the walls. Everyone is working hard, and the building is going up fast.
9We asked those in charge to tell us who gave them permission to rebuild the temple.10We also asked for the names of their leaders, so that we could write them down for you.
11They claimed to be servants of the God who rules heaven and earth. And they said they were rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago by one of Israel's greatest kings.
12We were told that their people had made God angry, and he let them be captured by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who took them away as captives to Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar tore down their temple,13-15took its gold and silver articles, and put them in the temple of his own god in Babylon.
They also said that during the first year Cyrus was king of Babylonia, he gave orders for God's temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem where it had stood before. So Cyrus appointed Sheshbazzar governor of Judah and sent these gold and silver articles for him to put in the temple.16Sheshbazzar then went to Jerusalem and laid the foundation for the temple, and the work is still going on.
17Your Majesty, please order someone to look up the old records in Babylonia and find out if King Cyrus really did give orders to rebuild God's temple in Jerusalem. We will do whatever you think we should.
I really disliked history when I was in school. I ran as far away from it as possible and made sure it wasn’t one of my majors for my final exams. Looking back though I wonder what was wrong with me?! Was I lazy, did I really not care about the past? Maybe I was living too much in the present!
Today, I love history. My discovery of the Gospels, the life of Jesus, the resurrection, and the events in the Old Testament have become pillars of my faith. When my doubts and questions of Christianity became numerous, it was history I had to be thankful for.
In many ways Ezra 5 is quite mundane as it records another bump in the road for the exile returnees. Just some governor, slowing things up, asking frustrating questions. But it’s not just some governor, he has a name, Tattenai, he’s from Trans-Euphrates, a real place that can be verified (v.3), and he sent a report to King Darius, a real king (v.6).
Many think the Bible is just made up, but fictional writing doesn’t mention real people and places. This reminds me of the Gospel account where Jesus testifies before political leaders like Herod and Pontius Pilate, privately meets with a man called Nicodemus, heals Jairus’ daughter, and the father of Alexander and Rufus helps Jesus carry his cross. If you were creating highly altered or fictional accounts you wouldn’t include the names of real people in real places, easily checked for their veracity.
What we are reading here actually happened. This part of history is totally bonkers too and should encourage the socks off you. These are the greatest (pagan) kings of their time (Cyrus then Darius) facilitating the rebuilding of God’s temple. And it’s not like the people of Judah are being coy about it. Verse 11 states that they claimed to be servants of the God who rules heaven and earth! That’s right, God ruled over Persia too!
Father, you are the God of History. You are the God that looks after us – you work in and through some of the most unlikely and complicated people and scenarios. May we be encouraged by your wondrous works in the past and trust you for what you are doing today. Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen