Outside Interference. 1When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, 2a they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of ancestral houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God just as you do, and we have sacrificed to him since the days of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria,* who brought us here.” 3But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of ancestral houses of Israel answered them, “It is not your responsibility to build with us a house for our God, but we alone must build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as Cyrus king of Persia has commanded us.” 4Thereupon the local inhabitants* discouraged the people of Judah and frightened them off from building. 5They also bribed counselors to work against them and to frustrate their plans during all the years of Cyrus, king of Persia, and even into the reign of Darius,* king of Persia.
Later Hostility. 6In the reign of Ahasuerus,* at the beginning of his reign, they prepared a written accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
7* Again, in the time of Artaxerxes, Tabeel and the rest of his fellow officials, in concert with Mithredath, wrote to Artaxerxes, king of Persia. The document was written in Aramaic and was accompanied by a translation.
8* Then Rehum, the governor, and Shimshai, the scribe, wrote the following letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes: 9“Rehum, the governor, Shimshai, the scribe, and their fellow officials, judges, legates, and agents from among the Persians, Urukians, Babylonians, Susians (that is, Elamites), 10and the other peoples whom the great and illustrious Osnappar* transported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in the province West-of-Euphrates, as follows….” 11This is a copy of the letter that they sent to him:
“To King Artaxerxes, your servants, the men of West-of-Euphrates, as follows: 12Let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have arrived at Jerusalem and are now rebuilding this rebellious and evil city. They are completing its walls, and the foundations have already been laid. 13Now let it be known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls completed, they will no longer pay taxes, tributes, or tolls; eventually the throne will be harmed. 14Now, since we eat the salt of the palace* and it is not fitting for us to look on while the king is being dishonored, we have sent this message to inform the king, 15so that inquiry may be made in the historical records of your fathers. In the historical records you will discover and verify that this is a rebellious city, harmful to kings and provinces; its people have been acting seditiously there since ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed. 16We therefore inform the king, that if this city is rebuilt and its walls completed again, you will thereupon not have a portion in the province West-of-Euphrates.”
17The king sent this answer: “To Rehum, the governor, Shimshai, the scribe, and their fellow officials living in Samaria and elsewhere in the province West-of-Euphrates, greetings: 18The communication which you sent us has been read in translation in my presence. 19When at my command inquiry was made, it was verified that from ancient times this city has risen up against kings and that rebellion and sedition have been fostered there. 20Powerful kings once ruled in Jerusalem who controlled all West-of-Euphrates, and taxes, tributes, and tolls were paid to them. 21Give orders, therefore, to stop these men. This city may not be rebuilt until a further decree has been issued by me. 22Take care that you do not neglect this matter. Why should evil increase to harm the throne?”
23b As soon as a copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter had been read before Rehum, the governor, Shimshai, the scribe, and their fellow officials, they immediately went to the Jews in Jerusalem and stopped their work by force of arms. 24As a result, work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased. This interruption lasted until the second year of the reign of Darius,* king of Persia.
* [4:2] Esarhaddon, king of Assyria: the enemies represent themselves as descendants of foreigners forcibly resettled in the Samaria region after the incorporation of the Northern Kingdom into the Assyrian empire (722 B.C.; cf. 2 Kgs 17:24). We have no record of a settlement under Esarhaddon (681–669 B.C.); the Aramaic source (Ezr 4:10) refers to a different resettlement under Osnappar/Ashurbanipal (668–627 B.C.).
* [4:4] Local inhabitants: lit., “the people of the land.”
* [4:5] Darius: Darius I (522–486 B.C.). The Temple-building narrative continues in v. 24. In between (vv. 6–23) is a series of notices about opposition to the returned exiles voiced at the Persian court in the early fifth century B.C., after the Temple had been built.
* [4:6] Ahasuerus: Xerxes (486–465 B.C.); the early years of his reign were occupied with revolts in several parts of the empire.
* [4:7] There is a note placed in the original text to indicate a change from Hebrew to Aramaic. The Aramaic section beginning here ends with 6:18; in 7:12–26 a royal letter is cited in Aramaic.
* [4:8–23] The letter to Artaxerxes I (465–424 B.C.) deals with the building of the fortification walls of Jerusalem, not the building of the Temple. The interruption of the work on the city wall some time before 445 B.C. was the occasion for the arrival of Nehemiah in the province (Neh 1:1–4; 2:1–5).
* [4:10] Osnappar: probably Ashurbanipal; see note on 4:2.
* [4:14] Eat the salt of the palace: the idiom signifies sharing in the benefits of the palace.
* [4:24] The second year…of Darius: that is, 520 B.C.; it marks the beginning of the successful restoration of the Temple, completed within the five years following (5:1–6:18).