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4:3 While the allusion to the Persian imperial edict is the explicit grounds for the returnees’ rejection of cooperation, their emphasis on “our God” (cf. “your God” in 4:2) suggests that religious perceptions may lie at the root of their refusal. If this is the case, the problem may well have been the perception (or indeed reality) that even after two centuries, the practices of the immigrants’ ancestors had continued (2 Kgs 17:41a notes that while these people were worshiping YHWH, they were also serving their idols). If so, given the Israelite tradition’s insistence that it was the worship of gods alongside YHWH that was instrumental in the fall of both the northern and southern kingdoms, the returnees’ reluctance is understandable, especially if involvement in rebuilding would have been understood to offer a precedent[…]
4:4–5 While we may assume that the people who set out to discourage (lit., “weaken the hands”) and frighten off the returnees include those already mentioned, 4:5 suggests that others may have been added to their number over an extended period of time. The motif of external intimidation met here for the first time will be a recurring one in Ezra-Nehemiah. Having dwelt at length on the initial progress of the returnees, the writer here offers a justification for the temple remaining unfinished until the time of Darius.
4:12–13 While it is not clear precisely which group of returnees is being referred to or when they returned, that the foundations of the walls are still being repaired (4:12) indicates a time prior to the walls’ completion in Nehemiah’s time. Eventually the returnees themselves will confess their own wickedness and that of their predecessors (9:13). Here however the wickedness being alleged is clearly less theological than it is political, as may be seen from 4:13’s rehearsal of the potential threats to the financial interests of the crown posed by the city’s restoration.
4:17–20 Having offered greetings to his addressees (4:17) and confirmed receipt of their correspondence (4:18), the king reports his investigations and confirms their allegations (4:19). While some suppose that 4:20 might refer to Judean kings’ own historic hegemony over and exploitation of what was now the Persian district, the tradition does not remember David—nor even Solomon in all his splendor—exercising authority over this entire region. Instead, the king reasons that if Jerusalem has paid taxes, tribute, and duty to his imperial predecessors in Babylon, then any activity that has the potential to reduce or eliminate Jerusalem’s contribution to his own coffers should be actively discouraged.
4:21–24 Royal investigation now gives way to instruction as the addressees are authorized to order the work to be stopped until the king decides otherwise (4:21). What might persuade the king to allow such work is unclear, but this final phrase may betray an awareness (or anticipation perhaps) of the sending of Nehemiah and the work that was eventually concluded under his supervision. Given that the obvious intention of the initial correspondence from Rehum and others was to halt the work, the king’s warning in 4:22 has a slightly ironic ring about it. We are thus not surprised when the writer of Ezra informs us (4:23) that the king’s instructions are acted upon “immediately” and with “full force” (lit., “with power and strength”). 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 17-18.
Bible Text: Ezra 4:1-24
1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
7 In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated. 8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: 9 Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the governors, the officials, the Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River. 11 (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) “To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now
12 be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. 14 Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, 15 in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. 16 We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.”
17 The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now 18 the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. 19 And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. 20 And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. 21 Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. 22 And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?”
23 Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. 24 Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Questions to help us go deeper
- What emotional result did the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin hope to cause through their opposition to the rebuilding of the temple?
- Given the persistence and determination of the opposition, what attitude did the Israelites need in order to continue?
- What discouragement, fear, and frustration have I experienced in ““building a temple to the Lord” (v.1)?