6 At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, 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.
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. 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.
(Ezra 4:6-24 NIV)
To recap so far – the Jewish exiles were sent by King Cyrus and went back to Judah and Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The exiles first rebuilt the altar and began making regular sacrifices to God. After the altar was rebuilt, the exiles rebuilt the foundation of the Temple. Once the foundation was rebuilt, they held a massive praise and worship celebration to honor God for His faithfulness and love.
The locals took notice and tried to dilute the exiles’ efforts through assimilation. The Jewish leaders rejected the local Samaritans’ offer, and the locals turned hostile, with bullying, threats, lies, and harassment.
Today, Ezra chronicles a long history of persecution and opposition to the Jewish community rebuilding the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This history covers roughly 100 years, from King Darius clear through King Artaxerxes. Here is a brief history of the kings mentioned in today’s text:
- Cyrus (536 – 530 BC)
- Darius (536 – 520 BC)
- (other kings not mentioned)
- Xerxes (486 – 465 BC)
- Artaxerxes (465 – 425 BC)
Ezra was recording from the historical timeline of King Darius (verse 5 from our last time together). He now fast-forwards through history to give us more examples of persecution that happened over the next century.
Ezra mentions a letter to Xerxes (v. 6), and there appears to have been a first letter to Artaxerxes that went unanswered (v. 7). Verses 8 – 16 are the contents of a second letter to Artaxerxes which did capture the king’s attention and generated a letter in response.
In this letter, Rehum and all the regional leaders got together and conspired against the returning Jewish exiles. Rehum (a Samaritan) and the other leaders tried to pass themselves off as loyal citizens and concerned with the king’s economic well-being. This sounded good, but the Samaritans and others in the region were transplants themselves (v. 2). These leaders likely knew of Xerxes’ expensive wars against the Greeks and other nations, and of Artaxerxes’ efforts to restore the Persian kingdom’s waning fortunes.
Ultimately, this tactic of writing the letter backfired, as Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah (a loyal Jew) to Jerusalem to restore the city walls and gates and establish order again. We will study this when we get to the book of Nehemiah.
So what did Rehum and the others accuse the Jews of doing? Actually, they accused them of nothing. The letter did mention that the Jews were rebuilding the walls and repairing the foundations (presumably of the Temple).
What the letter did infer was that the Jews, once they rebuilt the walls of the city, would declare independence from Persia and stop paying taxes and tributes. The letter cited historical precedence of rebellion by the city and its leaders as a predictor of the future.
The two incidents the letter referred to were Hezekiah’s withholding of tribute to the Assyrian king (2 Kings 18:5-8) in 724 BC, and Zedekiah’s failed attempt at freedom from the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:20-25:7) in 587 BC.
King Artaxerxes did search the archives of the kingdoms, found the historical records to be true, and in a reply letter, ordered the work to be halted. When the king’s letter was read, Rehum and the other locals took up arms (weapons) against the Jews and forced the work to stop.
It’s interesting to note that the records from the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Persians were all preserved so King Artaxerxes could, in fact, perform a search for the historical evidence of the accusations. In this case, the historical record seemed to go against the Jews. As we shall see later, the historical records will provide a benefit for the Jews.
Verse 24 concludes the chapter by taking us back to the same timeframe as verse 5 – during the reign of King Darius.
While Rehum may have won a temporary battle against the Jews, his actions ultimately caused the rebuilding of the walls and Temple under the official blessing of Artaxerxes.
The same God who could take a seeming setback and use it to ultimately accomplish His purposes in Ezra’s day is the same God who can take our defeats and setbacks and make good on His promises to further His work in us and through us today.
Take courage, friends – God is still at work to do His good will and pleasure (Ephesians 1:7-10)