For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

4:1.  “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel;”


Nothing provokes the opposition of Satan and the unconverted more than the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, as foreshadowed here in the building activity of Judah and Benjamin, that bitter antagonism continuing to the present in their opposition to the Gospel, for it is through the proclamation of that good news that men are converted and transformed into the living stones with which the Holy Spirit builds the Church, as it is written, “Ye also (believers), as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,” 1 Pe 2:5.


It is also instructive to note that Israel is described here as Judah and Benjamin, for Judah speaks of praise, as Benjamin does of sonship, the spiritual lesson being that only God’s sons, i.e., believers, can worship Him, they alone having the ability to worship Him as He desires, i.e., in spirit and in truth, for it is written, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” Jn 4:24.


The names Judah and Benjamin are used here to describe the nation because they constituted the majority of the people who had returned from the captivity.


It is to be noted also that these adversaries were Samaritans.  They were related to Israel by virtue of the fact that when Israel (the ten northern tribes) fell to Assyria the Assyrians deported many of the remaining Jews, replacing them with people from among the captives they, the Assyrians, had taken in various incursions against other nations.  The result was that the Jews still left in Samaria intermarried with these imported foreigners, so that the population very quickly became a mongrel breed which continued the outward form of worshiping Jehovah while at the same time worshiping idols.


The spiritual counterpart of this same Satanic activity is to be seen today in Christendom, which is Christian in name, but Samaritan in character, the professing but apostate “church” being an admixture of a tiny minority of true believers in the midst of a vast unconverted majority of mere professors who know not the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


4:2.  “Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.”


There is evil significance in their coming to Zerubbabel the civil head, rather than to Joshua the religious leader, for this remains the pattern still in Satan’s unrelenting warfare against God and His people.  Only the spiritually blind will fail to see the extent to which Christians have been robbed by Satan’s manipulation of governments.  Consider, for example, that in our schools the Bible may not be discussed or read publicly, nor in them may public prayer be addressed to God; yet in those same schools the reading and discussion of the “bibles” of any other religion are not only permitted but encouraged.


Nor should anyone be blind to the subtle cunning with which this muzzling has been imposed.  The ostensible reason given is that it is to avoid offending “those who are of other religious beliefs!”  This professedly Christian nation must be virtually silent relative to the God in Whom we profess to trust, so as not to offend those whom we have permitted to enter this country, many of them coming as refugees from intolerant regimes, and now they have the effrontery to impose upon Americans the same religious tyranny from which they themselves found refuge here!


“... we seek your God, as ye do, and we do sacrifice unto him.”  What they conveniently omitted was that they were syncretistic: they sought Jehovah and offered Him sacrifices, but as just another of their many so-called gods.  He, however, has commanded, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” Ex 20:3.


“... since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur (Assyria), which brought us up hither.”   Esarhaddon was the Assyrian king who reigned from 681 to 669 B.C., and whose policy was to stamp out the patriotism of captured people by scattering them amongst other nations, see verses one and two above.


4:3.  “But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.”


The returned Israelites presented a united front against the enemy, and it is her failure to maintain that same solidarity that has brought ruin upon a fragmented church.  She has not only failed to reject the enemy’s aid, but has energetically sought it.  Consider, for example, the membership of Christendom’s so-called churches.  The majority of those who constitute her congregations are unconverted, their membership having been facilitated by the refusal of so-called elders to ask any questions relative to the spiritual state of those applying for membership, the principal concern of those elders being to multiply numbers, and concomitantly, revenue.  Not only do they not refuse to accept the money of the unconverted: they energetically solicit it, affronting God by begging the unconverted for money to finance what they call “the Lord’s work.”


The unconverted have no more place in the true Church than did those Samaritans in the congregation of Israel; nor do they have any part in the building of the Church.  It is to be remembered that the true Church is built of “living stones,” i.e., those who have been born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  God’s rejection of the unconverted in connection with His work is emphatically declared in His command to believers, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” 2 Cor 6:14.


In the present context Cyrus is a type of God, for as it was he, Cyrus, who had commanded Israel to build the Temple, so has God commanded believers to build the Church through a faithful proclamation of the Gospel. 


4:4.  “Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building.”


Denied any part in building the Temple, the Samaritans vented their chagrin and anger in active opposition, and so is it still with the world in relation to the true Church.  The world and the apostate Church dwell together in harmony, their united power being directed implacably against the true Church and everything else that pertains to the kingdom of God, their apparent success being attested by their combined might and power in contrast with the seeming feebleness of the true Church.  Things, however, aren’t always as they seem to be.  The great apostate travesty, unaware of the imminence of her demise, is already tottering on the brink of destruction, while the true Church is poised for her rapture to heaven.


In spite of all the opposition of the enemy, the Temple was built, and so will the building of the Church also be completed.


4:5.  “And hired counselors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus, king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius, the king of Persia.”


The means employed by the hired counselors aren’t revealed, but there can be little doubt that they were as numerous and ingenious as the fertile mind of Satan, their master, could conjure up.  He has been no less active in his opposition to the building of the Church, but like the Temple, it too will be built, everything in the present state of the world pointing to the imminence of its completion, and rapture to heaven.


Darius reigned from 521-486 B.C., and in 515 B.C., the building of the Temple was completed.


Verses 6-23 form a parenthesis here in which is recorded the correspondence carried on between Israel’s enemies and  Artaxerxes king of Persia in later years, as explained in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, “These letters to and from Artaxerxes are out of place chronologically, but they follow here logically to show that the opposition Ezra had begun to describe (vv. 1-5) continued on for many years - to 485 B.C., the year Xerxes began to reign (v.6) and on into the days of Artaxerxes (464-424). Artaxerxes was the king who was reigning during the events rcorded in chapters 7-10.


4:6.  “And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.”


This attempt of the enemy to provoke the anger of the civil authorities against the returned remnant, is a ploy which Satan has used very successfully through the long years of his bitter antagonism against God and His people.


4:7.  “And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian (Aramaic) tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.”


Aramaic was the common commercial language of the neighboring trading nations at that time.


Verses 7-23 deal with another letter written during the reign of Artaxerxes; and relative to verses 7-23 William MacDonald has written instructively:


“The rebuilding of the temple was completed during the reign of Darius, who ruled before Ahasuerus (v.6) and Artaxerxes (v.7).  Therefore, the letters described in verses 6-23 were written after the temple was rebuilt.  They have to do with attempts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, not the temple.  But they are placed here, out of their chronological order, as further illustrations of attempts made to obstruct the work of the returned exiles.


From 4:6 to 6:8, the language is Aramaic instead of Hebrew.  This was the language used by Persia in official decrees.”


4:8.  “Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort:”


“... chancellor” is also translated “high commissioner.”  He had Shimshai his secretary write the letter of complaint which he, Rehum, dictated.


4:9.  “Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites,”


4:10.  “And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river at such a time.”


The river was the Euphrates, and the nations, known later as the Samaritans, were those whom Nebuchadnezzar had settled in Samaria to replace the Jews whom he had carried captive to Babylon, see verses 1-2 above.  The large number of signatory nations was undoubtedly to impress the king with the validity of the complaint.


Relative to the material in verses 6-23 The Bible Knowledge Commentary furnishes the following instructive information:


These letters to and from Artaxerxes are out of place chronologically, but they follow here logically to show that the opposition Ezra had begun to describe (vv 1-5) continued on for many years - to 485 BC, the year Xerxes began to reign (v.6) and on into the days of Artaxerxes (464-424).  Artaxerxes was the king who was reigning during the events recorded in chapters 7-10 .... Thus the letters may have been written at the time of Ezra’s return (458 BC.).  Therefore the letters were written nearly 80 years later than the account into which they were placed.  Ezra was not being deceptive by placing the letters here in his book since he clearly dated them by the ruler under which they were written.  Anyone familiar with the history of that part of the world at that time (as were the inhabitants of Israel when the Book of Ezra was written) would have clearly seen what Ezra was logically doing.


4:11.  “This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river (Euphrates), and at such a time.”


4:12.  “Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.”


Not only was the charge false as to the purpose of the Jews in building the city, but it was untrue also relative to the work that they had done, for at the time of writing neither foundation nor walls had been constructed, the Temple alone having been completed in 515 B.C.


4:13.  “Be it known unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.”


This charge was pure speculation without foundation, and was obviously designed to appeal to the king’s cupidity.


4:14.  “Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonor, therefore have we sent and certified the king;”


The appeal continues with sickening sycophancy, and a feigned care for the king’s honor, a NT example of similar character being the speech of Tertullus recorded in Ac 24:1-9 in connection with the Jews’ charges brought against Paul.


4:15.  “That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed.”


Here the enemy was on solid ground, for Israel had foolishly rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, in defiance of God’s command that they were to submit to Babylonian dominion.


4:16.  “We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.”


They continued to emphasize their claim that the purpose of the Jews in rebuilding Jerusalem was to end Babylon’s dominion west of the Euphrates.


4:17.  “Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwelt in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time.”


4:18.  “The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.”


4:19.  “And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein.”


4:20.  “There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them.”


This confirmation of their charges must have been very gratifying to Israel’s accusers.  The “mighty kings,” incidentally, are generally believed to have been David and Solomon.


4:21.  “Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.”


The king’s command must also have afforded them immense satisfaction; but as The Wycliffe Bible Commentary points out,

“This final clause left the door open for the king to change his mind, as we find in Nehemiah 2!  Truly this was providential, for the laws of the Medes and Persians changed not!”


4:22.  “Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?”


4:23.  “Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.”


4:24.  “Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem.  So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”


The eager haste with which they executed the king’s command is easily imagined; but though the delay lasted for twenty years, the work was resumed in “the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”


God, for the accomplishment of His own purposes, may permit interruptions of His work, but no power can hinder its ultimate completion.  Every believer can rest in the confident assurance that “All things work together for good to those who love God,” Ro 8:28, the further assurance being given that, “... our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Cor 4:17.

[Ezra 5]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough