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Tattenai’s Letter To Darius (ch. 5:1 - 17)


In verse 1 we see the names of two prophets.  They are Haggai and Zechariah.  These two prophets were raised up by God to encourage the Jews to return to their building project.  Eighteen years have now passed since they stopped building the temple.


You learn from Haggai that the Jews were living in nice houses themselves but the house for God was in shambles.


God raises up prophets, men and women, at the right time, when His people need encouragement and correction.  Prophets set direction for God’s people.  They speak what God wants his people to know.  It doesn’t matter if it is Old Testament times or New Testament times, God will have certain people who speak His word to.  In this case God’s word was simple.  He told them to stop thinking of their own prosperity and start thinking in terms of God again and building His temple.     


Verse 1 ends with the word “who is over them”.  It was God who was over the Jews, even though they lived under the Persian kings.  At this point in Jewish history, the Jews had to make a choice – either obey God or obey the king.  The prophets pointed out the need to obey God.


Verse 2 tells us that Haggai and Zechariah succeeded in their word to the Jews.  The building project began once again.  It is also important to note that these two prophets didn’t only prophesy, they actually helped in the building process. They got their hands dirty and worked side by side with the ordinary men in the building project. God’s messengers should always be servants, as these two men were.


Once again we see Zerubbabel mentioned.  He is the civil governor for the Jews.  He was a Jew.  You also read the name Jeshua.  As earlier stated, he is the chief of the priests.  At this point in Jewish history the civil and religious leaders worked together.


In verse 3 we see Tattenai mentioned who was governor of Trans-Euphrates.  Other translations use the term “the land beyond the river”, meaning, the land west of the Euphrates River.  Tattenai and his associates approached the Jews once they saw that the Jews began to build again.  They asked the Jews who authorized them to start building again.  So here comes another time of conflict.  The civil government asks why these Jews are building.  They wanted to know what civil authority authorized them to rebuild.  Of course, no civil authority authorized them to start again.  God, through the prophets told them to start building again.  Yet, as we will see, a civil leader did authorize the building in the first place, and that was king Cyrus.


Verse 4 tells us that Tattenai wanted the names of those who were working on the building. This might be were the rubber meets the road for some.  To work anonymously on the temple is one thing, but to have your names given to the civil authority is another thing altogether.  This has been the case with many persecuted Christians over the years.  We may be willing to serve Jesus anonymously, but are we willing to serve Him out in the public with our names known to all?


In verse 5 Ezra states that “the eyes of God were on the Jewish elders”.   How comforting this must have been for these men.  It is clear, that when we are doing God’s will, His eyes are upon us.  It does not mean that everything will go easy for us.  It means that God is with us in all the uneasy times, helping us to get through.


We see King Darius mentioned here in verse 5.  In order not to get confused, there were more than one Darius the king.  This Darius appears to me to be Darius the second who ruled Persia from 423 to 404 B.  C..   


Verses 6 and 7 introduces us to a letter that Tattenai,  governor of Trans-Euphrates, and his associates sent to king Darius.  The governor wanted the building project of the Jews to stop immediately, and when it didn’t he sent Darius the letter the Ezra records for us.


Verse 8 is the introduction to the letter.  The letter states that Tattenai visited “the district of Judah”.  Judah was a district in one of Persia’s twenty provinces.   The letter states that the Jews had restarted the building of the “temple of the great God”.   Tattenai says that the Jewish God is the “great God”, but he himself does not recognize the greatness of the Jewish God. 


Also in verse 8 we note the diligence of the Jews in the building process.  There working harder and faster than ever.  The message of Haggai and Zechariah have truly encouraged these men to work. This should be the end result of any prophetic message, but as we know, this wasn’t always the case in Israel of old, and it’s not the case in the church today.


In verses 9 and 10 Tattenai mentions to the king that he had asked the Jews who gave them the authority to build the temple, and what are the names of those doing the work.  The letter states clearly the reason for the collection of these names.  It was so the king himself would know who was building the temple.


We have to realize that during this period of time, as with much of Old Testament times, there were revolts popping up all over the place that Darius and other kings had to deal with.  The building of the temple and the city of Jerusalem was seen by Tattenai as the beginning of a revolt.  Once the temple and the city were finished, the next step would be to separate from the Persian kingdom.


In verse 11 Tattenai repeats what the leaders of Israel told him concerning who gave them the authority to build the temple.  The simple answer could have been just one word – “Cyrus”.  Cyrus did give them the authority to build, but there’s more to the story than that.  Beyond Cyrus, God gave them the authority to build and the Jewish leaders wanted the civil authority to know this.  Their answer was in fact a testimony to their God, which is important for us today.  Christians, in times of pressure from the state and society, must often times give an explanation for their actions.  Many times this explanation is in a court of law.  The explanation must include Jesus and all that He means to us or else our explanation is not complete, and does not give due credit to Jesus.


So in response to “who gave you the authority to build”,  the Jews answer with, “we serve the God of heaven”.   The way in which they state this is to suggest that there is no other God than the God they serve.  All other cultures around the Jews are polytheistic.  The have multiple gods.  The Jews have one God who is supreme over all things. The Jews could have easily said, “Cyrus” gave us the authority” as I’ve said above, but they didn’t.  They basically said, “the one and only God of heaven gave us this authority”, which would not have gone over very well because it suggests that there is someone else in authority over the king.  This is what Tattenai wanted Darius to know.  These Jews felt the need to serve their God instead of Darius.


Also in verse 11 we note that the Jews told Tattenai that the temple building project is actually a “rebuilding project”.  They were rebuilding the temple that one of their own great kings built, back in the days when Israel

themselves was a great nation.  This king was Solomon.


Verse 12 states the fact that God became angry with his people and as a result allowed the Babylonians  to come in and destroy Jerusalem and the temple and take the Jews captive to Babylon.  The elders are giving an account of the historical facts to Tattenai in their defense.  So what the elders are doing here is that they are giving witness to their God as well as giving the historical facts to state why they have the authority to rebuild the temple.


Verse 13 states what Tattenai probably wants to hear.  The preceding did not fully answer the question in terms that he wanted.  Verse 13 tells us that it was actually Cyrus who gave the civil authority to the Jews to return to rebuild the temple and their city.  The Jews didn’t just leave their defense with God being the one who gave them the authority.  They gave their answer in a prioritized way.  First it was God, then it was Cyrus. This should be the same with us.  If we have any civil rights in our defense, once we’ve stated our defense from the Christian perspective, we then can state our defense from any civil rights that we may have. 


Verses 14 to 16 state the facts that how Nebuchadnezzar took much of the contents from the original temple and put them in his own temple in Babylon.  Then Cyrus removed these things and gave them back to the Jews to put in their temple once it was rebuilt.  The letter states that the Jews claim that Cyrus gave them the freedom to rebuild along with financial support.


Verse 17 closes this chapter and this letter.  Tattenai encourages the king to look back in the Persian records to see if King Cyrus actually did give the authority to the Jews to build the temple and their city.   Tattenai then says that once this information is gathered, he’d like to know the truth to this matter.


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