Read the Passage: Ezra 5-6
Prophecy and Conflict (5:1–5)
The opposition God’s people experienced when rebuilding the temple (cf. Ezra 4:1–5, 24) resulted in a 15-year hiatus in the restoration project. This break, which lasted from roughly 536–520 BC, ended under the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Note that Haggai began his brief ministry first, with Zechariah starting his ministry two months after Haggai commenced. The book of Haggai records Haggai’s confrontation of God’s people concerning the delay in rebuilding the Temple, as he gave four brief prophecies over a four-month period in 520 BC. In sum, Haggai informed the people that their lack of material flourishing was God’s judgment upon them on account of their self-satisfaction and their failure to rebuild the temple. Surprisingly, Hag. 1:12–15 records that only twenty-three days after Haggai’s first message, the people resumed rebuilding the temple.
When God’s people resumed the rebuilding of the temple after a 15-year break, they drew the attention of the Persian authorities in the region. These governmental officials inquired about the building project, learned the names of those who were constructing the temple, and sent a letter of inquiry to King Darius. Note that this letter is different from, and chronologically prior to, the letter cited in Ezra 4:9–16. Furthermore, observe that whereas the letter in Ezra 4 was written by certain Samaritans who were hostile to the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, the letter in Ezra 5 was penned by Persian authorities who were merely inquiring about the legality of the temple restoration project. Ezra records the favor of God on the people, noting, “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius” (Ezra 5:5).
Report and Inquiry (5:6–17)
Ezra 5:6–17 is simply a copy of the letter that the government officials sent to Persia in order to inquire about the rebuilding of the temple. As was noted above, this letter differs from the one recorded in Ezra 4 in that the letter here in Ezra 5 does not appear to be written out of spite or malice. Note that it is likely the Persian authorities in Israel who penned this letter were not the ones in office when the temple construction project began in 536 BC, which explains their need for clarification from Persia. There are five main sections to this letter of inquiry: identification of the authors (cf. Ezra 5:6), description of the work (cf. Ezra 5:7–8), identification of the builders (cf. Ezra 5:9–12), citation of Cyrus’ permission (cf. Ezra 5:13–16), and petition for verification (cf. Ezra 5:17). Observe that when the Persian officials asked the people about the building project (cf. Ezra 5:3), the Jews humbly and freely admitted that the reason for the destruction of the earlier temple was their own sin (cf. Ezra 5:12).
Reply and Completion (6:1–22)
Just as Ezra 5:6–17 recorded the letter from the Persian authorities to Darius, so Ezra 6:2–12 reports the reply from Darius to the governing leaders. This letter had three main sections: first, Cyrus’ decree, which was originally cited at Ezra 1:2–4, is quoted (cf. Ezra 6:3–5); second, Darius commanded the authorities to supply the Jews with both building supplies and animals for sacrifice (cf. Ezra 6:6–10); and third, with the Samaritans in view, Darius warned about the consequences of disobeying his decree (cf. Ezra 6:11–12). While there is no indication that the Persian authorities were hostile to God’s people, the clarity and urgency of this reply from Darius must have surprised them. In Ezra 6:15–18 it is recorded that the temple was completed in 516 BC. Since the last deportation was in 586 BC, some scholars view the completion of the temple as the end of the 70-year captivity.
As perhaps could be expected, upon completion of the temple, God’s people kept the Passover for the first time in at least 70-years. Ezra is careful to record the appropriate way in which this Passover was celebrated, which included the priests and Levites being properly cleansed (cf. Ezra 6:20a), the slaughtering of the lambs (cf. Ezra 6:20b), and the inclusion of both Jews and cleansed proselytes (cf. Ezra 6:21). As was the case with the earlier celebrations of Hezekiah (cf. 2 Chron. 30:1–22) and Josiah (cf. 2 Chron. 35:1–19), so this first post-exilic Passover was a grand event. Indeed, God’s people were keenly aware of the providential blessings of God upon them. Ezra writes that they celebrated, “for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:22).
- How important is encouragement for making progress in the Christian life? How have you been encouraged by other believers in the past?
- Is opposition or distraction a greater hindrance to Christian ministry? How can we explain the near instantaneous effect of Haggai’s prophetic ministry?
- Why did God’s people inform the Persian rulers that it was their own sin that had led to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the temple?
- Why it is noted in Ezra 6:14 that three kings—Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes—were in favor of the restoration project (cf. Prov. 21:1)?
- What have you received from God for which you are thankful? How can you celebrate such providential blessing?