22 October 2011

"So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia." (v. 14)


After all the planning and preparation, it might be hoped that when work began the rebuilding of the temple might go smoothly - but not so. There was opposition to the Jews from elsewhere within the Persian Empire and chapter 4 tells of the way that their opponents Rehum and Shimshai sought to frustrate their plans by bringing petitions and false accusations before King Cyrus' successors, Ahasuerus and then Artaxerxes.

Despite these frustrations, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged their people to keep faith and continue with the rebuilding. Chapter 5 describes how, when queries were raised with the governor, Tattenai, he, as a good civil servant, decided it best to check with King Darius before giving approval for work to continue.

Chapter 6 recounts what happened next. A search was made through the royal archives, and a scroll found in provincial registry in Ecbatana containing a copy of Cyrus' original decree instructing the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (verse 2). Based on this authority, Darius gave instruction to Tattenai not only to allow the work to go ahead (verse 7) but to provide funding for it from his provincial revenues (verse 8).

Darius' decree ended with a warning against anyone else who might dare to frustrate this work; these things were to be carried out "with all diligence" (v. 12) so that in this house the Jews might "offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his children" (v. 10). And so it was that the Jews built and prospered; they were able to dedicate the temple and to celebrate once more the feast of the Passover (verses 20-22). All this was due both to the faithfulness of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and the authority of Kings Cyrus and Darius.

To Ponder

The rebuilding of the temple is a story about the patient overcoming of obstacles. How does that speak to our situation?

Are there times when, instead, we are tempted to go for short-term fixes? If so, what happens/happened?

It's also a story about how religious faith and civil authority combine to ensure God's purposes are fulfilled. How far is that cooperation still a possibility for us today?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

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