Ezra 4 The Voice (VOICE)
4 When the residents of the former Northern Kingdom, who were enemies of the Southern Kingdom tribes of Judah and Benjamin, heard that the exiled Jews had returned to build the Eternal God of Israel’s temple, 2 they asked Zerubbabel and the tribal leaders if they could help.
Northern Enemies: Let us help you build this temple to the True God, whom we both follow. You see, our families began sacrificing to Him when King Esarhaddon of Assyria sent us to colonize the Northern Kingdom after he conquered it.
Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the Tribal Leaders: 3 You have nothing in common with us! You are not heirs to the Lord’s promise to Abraham. King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us to build the Eternal God of Israel’s temple, so we will do it by ourselves.
4 To intimidate the returning Jews from building, the people of the land made the returning exiles afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors to hinder the Jews’ efforts throughout the reigns of Cyrus and Darius, the kings of Persia.
The elders recognize that the Assyrian colonists have impure motives. They don’t want to help the Jews; they want to inhibit the reconstruction of the nation. But foreigners aren’t the only ones interested in hindering the progress. Those people who remained in the Southern Kingdom while the Jews were exiled try many times to disrupt Israel’s tender alliance with the Persian emperors. The Jews have to fight to rebuild the temple during the reigns of Cyrus and Darius, and decades later they will fight to rebuild Jerusalem.
6 When Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I) ascended to the Persian throne in 485 b.c., they wrote a letter to him accusing the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem of crimes. 7 They did it again during Artaxerxes’ reign; Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and their coconspirators wrote a letter to the Persian king in Aramaic, which was later translated into Hebrew. 8-10 A third time, they wrote a letter to the Persians. This time, Rehum the commander, Shimshai his scribe, and their associates (the judges, the lieutenant governors, the officials, the secretaries, the Babylonians, the Elamites of Susa, the residents of Erech, and the other colonists who were relocated by the great Assyrian King Osnappar in Samaria and beyond the Euphrates) drafted a letter to King Artaxerxes I slandering Jerusalem.
Northern Enemies’ Letter:
11 King Artaxerxes,
We, your servants who live beyond the Euphrates River, are compelled to report to you the treasonous actions of the Jews.
12 The Jews whom your predecessors sent to Jerusalem are busy rebuilding the city, its fortifications, and its foundations with the intention of rebelling against you. 13 If they succeed, dear king, they will stop paying your required tribute, customs, and tolls, and your revenue will suffer.
14 Since we are your servants and the government’s representatives to these foreigners, we are offended by any actions taken against you and are informing you of these actions. 15 We suggest that if you read your predecessors’ court documents and learn about the history of the Jews of Jerusalem, you will find that they are notoriously rebellious, harming kings and provinces and instigating revolts. Their actions caused your ancestors to destroy Jerusalem and exile its inhabitants.
16 We recommend that you, our king, act quickly. If those fortifications are completed, then you will lose your provinces west of the Euphrates to a Jerusalem-led rebellion.
Artaxerxes’ Reply (to Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the associates):
17 Loyal ones in Samaria,
Greetings. 18 Your letter was carefully read and translated in my court, and I have addressed your concerns.
19 I issued a decree that my servants investigate the history of Jerusalem. They discovered that your fears are not unfounded. In the past Jerusalem has indeed rebelled and revolted against kings— 20 mighty kings who ruled Jerusalem, governed provinces west of the Euphrates, and required tributes, customs, and tolls from their subjects.
21 Now you must issue a decree of your own. Order the Jews to stop building in Jerusalem until I tell them otherwise. 22 Do not be indifferent in your handling of this matter. This threat cannot be allowed to harm the empire.
23 As soon as they heard King Artaxerxes’ letter, Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their associates rushed to Jerusalem and stopped the Jews’ work with the threat of violence.
24 The continual efforts of our neighbors to thwart the temple building were rewarded. The Jerusalem temple site lay deserted and unfinished until the second year of King Darius of Persia’s reign.
Ezra 4 New International Version (NIV)
Opposition to the Rebuilding
4 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
3 But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.[a] 5 They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Later Opposition Under Xerxes and Artaxerxes
6 At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes,[b] they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
7 And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.[c][d]
8 Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows:
9 Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary, together with the rest of their associates—the judges, officials and administrators over the people from Persia, Uruk and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa, 10 and the other people whom the great and honorable Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates.
11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)
To King Artaxerxes,
From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:
12 The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.
13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer.[e] 14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.
17 The king sent this reply:
To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates:
18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?
23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.
24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.