Book of Ezra Chapter Five Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Search The Records
You were born into this world with certain "natural" abilities, and it's not surprising that additional gifts emerge after being "born again" in Christ Jesus (John 3:3, 7). One of those abilities, given to some, is called "prophesy," and we are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:20, "Do not despise prophecies." We don't blindly follow everyone who says, "I'm a prophet," which is the sense of Verse 21, which says: "Test all things..." God speaks through His Word, the Bible, He speaks directly to our hearts through His Holy Spirit, through gifts such as prophesy, and the circumstances of our lives—He constantly speaks encouragement and warns us of danger in more ways than we can imagine. The Jews had returned from being captives, first of the Babylonians and then the Persians, but they were discouraged and frightened, too timid at the moment to complete God's first order of business—rebuilding the Temple. So in Verse 1, we find that God sent prophets to encourage them.
In Verses 1-2 of this chapter, "When the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the 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, 2 then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them supporting them." In the Old Testament books that bear their names, you can read literal Words from God that were expressed through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Zerubbabel was "the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah" (Haggai 1:1) and Jeshua's father, Jozadak, was the son of Seraiah, the high priest at the time of Jerusalem's destruction (1 Chronicles 6:14). The title of "high priest" is attached to Jeshua in Haggai 1:1,14 and 2:2. Like these men, we need the Lord because we are ultimately not able to complete what the Lord calls us to do, except that He enables, encourages and helps us do it.
Verse 3: "At that time Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues came to them and spoke to them thus, 'Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?'" Tattenai, in this verse, is given the same title as Zerubbabel in Ezra 6:7 and in Haggai 1:1 & 14, which is "pechah," translated "governor," a word that can also mean "captain" or "deputy." Tattenai was pechah, governor, over all the lands west of the Euphrates River and Zerubbabel was a sub-pechah (governor) of the lands surrounding Jerusalem only. Shether-bozenai was another Persian official, possibly a scribe, who initially hindered the Jews in their work on the Temple, but in Ezra 6:13 & its context, he would ultimately assist them.
In Verse 4, the Jews simply responded to Governor Tattenai, providing him the names of those in charge of the Temple reconstruction: "Then we told them accordingly what the names of the men were who were reconstructing this building." We can take the risk of telling the truth because God is with those who trust Him and do His will. He protects His own. Here's Verse 5: "But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until a report could come to Darius, and then a written reply be returned concerning it." The Persians had their information, a letter to the king was sent, but the work went on because God wanted it to happen. No written reply was expected soon and reconstruction of the Temple continued.
The rest of this chapter is a word-by-word copy of the letter sent to the king, as stated in Verse 6: "This is the copy of the letter which Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai and his colleagues the officials, who were beyond the River, sent to Darius the king." Verse 7 is the beginning of that letter, a greeting to the king: "They sent a report to him in which it was written thus: 'To Darius the king, all peace.'" The word "peace" in that greeting was a mere formality, but it is also what the world deeply needs, obtainable only through the Lord who was causing the Temple to be built at that very moment. The Lord would later comfort His followers with these words: "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). He is our peace.
The letter was a report by a governor to his king, as continued in Verses 8-10: "Let it be known to the king that we have gone to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God, which is being built with huge stones, and beams are being laid in the walls; and this work is going on with great care and is succeeding in their hands. 9 Then we asked those elders and said to them thus, 'Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure? 10 We also asked them their names so as to inform you, and that we might write down the names of the men who were at their head." This was more than merely a report. It was also a criminal investigation into activities that might be harmful to the empire. The Persian governor who led the investigation might have had good intentions or he might have been bribed by the Samaritan tribes who lived in the area of Judah, but his report was being sent and the outcome was in the hands of the True King whose name is Almighty God.
Verse 11 continues, "Thus they answered us, saying, 'We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished." The "great king of Israel" was Solomon, son of David, and that temple was magnificent. Viewing the foundation of it's replacement caused some of the elderly Jews who remembered Solomon's Temple to weep because it was comparatively small and plain (Ezra 3:12-13). But the Persian governor who had not seen the original, viewed this one as impressive, built with "huge stones" as in Verse 8.
The governor's letter appears to be a straight-forward account, as continued in Verses 12-15: "But because our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon. 13 However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. 14 Also the gold and silver utensils of the house of God which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, and brought them to the temple of Babylon, these King Cyrus took from the temple of Babylon and they were given to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor. 15 He said to him, 'Take these utensils, go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem and let the house of God be rebuilt in its place." The destruction of the nation and temple was because of the loving, corrective hand of God. His response might seem excessive, except that Judah's people and leaders had lapsed into idolatry which is empty religion. God wants our hearts—to give ourselves to Him through faith is the only hope of any generation. Our preparation for eternity is infinitely more important than any temporary comfort on this earth. He will do what it takes to bring us to Himself.
Verse 16: "Then that Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem; and from then until now it has been under construction and it is not yet completed." The man "Sheshbazzar" was also known as "Zerubbabel," a name seen elsewhere in this book. Then, as now, people were usually identified by more than one name, and this Sheshbazzar was the sub-governor sent by the now-deceased King Cyrus to rebuild God's Temple. Notice in his letter the high regard this Persian official had for Almighty God. His words in Verse 12 acknowledged Him as "the God of heaven." Somewhere inside of us all, even within the avowed athiest, there is an awareness that God is real, that we are His creation, and that He has expectations for your life and mine.
The Persians, like the Jews, kept careful written records, and Governor Tattenai, to his credit, encouraged King Darius to have those records searched to see if King Cyrus had indeed ordered the rebuilding of the Temple, which is how his letter concludes in Verse 17: "Now if it pleases the king, let a search be conducted in the king’s treasure house, which is there in Babylon, if it be that a decree was issued by King Cyrus to rebuild this house of God at Jerusalem; and let the king send to us his decision concerning this matter." That's the kind of people we should be—record searchers. The point in understanding God is not that you agree with my opinion or I with yours, but that we find the truth. Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." If we are honest men and women, we will prayerfully consider His Word, which is the Word of God.
Lord, we are searching these records in Your Holy Scriptures with the intention of finding You, for You are the truth. Please unmistakeably reveal Yourself to us in Your Word, and lead us to find true faith in You. In Jesus Name. Amen.