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5:1–2 Having described the frustration of the returnees’ later efforts to rebuild the city and the walls, the book of Ezra resumes the story of the temple, the reconstruction of which was, according to 4:5, halted until the time of Darius. […] That the community of returnees continues to receive prophecies also reaffirms its identification with the people of the past and their prophets—not least those prophets who had promised that Judah and its people would be rebuilt. […] whether it is God or his name that is “over/upon them” and whether “them” refers to the prophets or the people or both, the text here seizes the opportunity to reemphasize that the resumption commences under the aegis of the God whose house they are rebuilding. […]
5:3–5 The news that those beyond the community approach the returnees “at the same time” as building recommences prepares the reader for opposition of the sort encountered later (but described already in Ezra 4). While there is nothing obviously malicious or malevolent about the enquiries, the querying by the district governor and his associates of who has authorized the work (5:3) and who is undertaking it (5:4) is clearly seen as potentially if not actually obstructive (“they did not stop them”). […] The Chronicler (2 Chr 7:16) recounts the divine promise to Solomon that his “eyes” will always be at the temple, but in the context of the return from exile, perhaps most relevant of all is God’s word through Jeremiah (24:6): “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them.” Whether it is God’s “hand” (Ezra 7:6, 9; etc.) or his “eye,” the image of divine attention and tangible support is clear. […]
5:11 Given that Rehum and others introduce themselves as “servants” of the Persian crown (Artaxerxes) in correspondence from a later period (included, however, already in 4:11), the returnees’ self-identification as “servants of the God of heaven and earth” is a bold beginning. While Cyrus’s edict and the returnees themselves (cf. 5:12) refer to the “God of heaven” (see commentary on 1:2), the allusion to the original construction of the temple by Solomon (“a great king of Israel”) may explain the returnees’ recognition of their God’s sovereignty over not merely heaven but “the earth” as well. After all, the opening verses of Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1 Kgs 8 (to which Neh 1 is perhaps also indebted) are not only replete with “servant” language, they also consider the question of God’s presence on earth as it is in heaven. In alluding to Solomon’s earlier building, the returnees yet again underline the continuity of their own building with that of the past.
5:12 The note of continuity is sounded again as the returnees explain the exile in terms of the failings of their “fathers.” The focus on the sins of the previous generation (rather than the present one; cf. Neh 1:5–7) likely reflects the official purpose of the correspondence rather than the lack of contrition or sense of responsibility, given what we see elsewhere among the exiles (cf. Ezek 18). […] Evidently, for the exiles, God’s sovereignty is to be seen in both the ruin and the restoration. Of course, as we have seen, it is crucial for the exiles that the same people who were “carried” off to Babylon are now doing the rebuilding. 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 19-20.
1 Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. 2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.
3 At the same time Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them and spoke to them thus: “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?” 4 They also asked them this: “What are the names of the men who are building this building?” 5 But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it.
6 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and his associates, the governors who were in the province Beyond the River, sent to Darius the king. 7 They sent him a report, in which was written as follows: “To Darius the king, all peace. 8 Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. 9 Then we asked those elders and spoke to them thus: ‘Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?’ 10 We also asked them their names, for your information, that we might write down the names of their leaders. 11 And this was their reply to us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. 12 But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia. 13 However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. 14 And the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem and brought into the temple of Babylon, these Cyrus the king took out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; 15 and he said to him, “Take these vessels, go and put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its site.” 16 Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and from that time until now it has been in building, and it is not yet finished.’ 17 Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And let the king send us his pleasure in this matter.”
Questions to help us go deeper
- What painful political reality is behind the question: “Who gave you a decree to build this house?” (In other words, why would this have been an intimidating question?)
- What are some earthly realities and circumstances that remind me of the ways I am limited in my ability to serve God and build his kingdom?
- How does v. 5 give me reassurance regarding how I can move forward with faith and vision in the face of opposition and life constraints?
- What can I learn from the way the Jews identified themselves when questioned by the governors of the province Beyond the River?