“Ezra” series: (post #11)
Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them. (Ezra 5:1-2, N.K.J.V.)
The Haggai and Zechariah who are mentioned in our text passage are the same two prophets who wrote the Bible’s books that bear their names. Both men were burdened by God to give Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of Judah’s returned exiles a “kick in the pants” to get them to finish building the new temple in Jerusalem (5:1). Sixteen years earlier the project had begun with a lot of excitement, but the work had ground to a halt in the midst of years of delay. Now it was time to complete the job.
Haggai and Zechariah were both part of that group of approximately 50,000 exiles who had left Babylon and returned to Judah. Despite the fact that Zerubbabel carried the title of “governor” and Jeshua (Joshua) carried the title of “High Priest,” neither man was a prophet who literally spoke for God. That’s why Judah was blessed to have Haggai and Zechariah in its ranks.
Haggai prophesied from August to December in 520 B.C., and Zechariah prophesied for two years beginning in October of that year. The prophecies the two men gave are a textbook study in the differing styles of God’s preachers. Whereas Haggai’s four recorded prophecies remind us of fiery sermonettes, Zechariah’s prophecies are more numerous, lengthier, and feature more encouragement than rebuke. But both men spoke for God. God has never required a one-size-fits-all approach to preaching. Just as He can use a crude fisherman like Peter to get His message proclaimed, He can also use a brilliant theologian like Paul to do it.
Haggai, in his blunt style, harshly rebuked Judah’s citizens for spending more time working on their own houses than the temple (Haggai 1:3-4). Obviously, completing the new temple lost its priority with them not long after the work began. As a result, the people became unclean in God’s eyes (Haggai 2:10-14) and God sent a drought to the land to limit their harvests (Haggai 1:7-11; 2:15-19). Neither the misplaced priorities nor the consequences of them are mentioned by Ezra to explain the delay in building the temple. Instead, he focuses upon the interference from outsiders. No doubt both categories of problems were part of the equation. On a more uplifting note, Haggai’s prophecies also promised that God would bless Judah (Haggai 2:19) and looked ahead to the time when He would overthrow its enemies (Haggai 2:20-23).
Zechariah, in his less fiery style, likewise called the citizens of Judah to repent (Zechariah 1:1-6), but he also told them about several visions that he had experienced (1:7-6:15). Chapters 9-14 of his book deal with the rejection of Israel’s coming Messiah, His Second Coming in glory, and His future kingdom. God gave these visions in order to help the people understand that their nation, with its capital city of Jerusalem, was slated for a glorious future.
To the credit of Zerubbabel and Jeshua, they wholeheartedly accepted the words from Haggai and Zechariah and restarted the work of the temple in earnest (5:2). As had been the case before, though, opposition arose almost immediately. This time it came in the form of a group led by Tattenai, who was Persia’s representative governor of the region, and Shethar-Boznai, who was most likely an assistant to Tattenai (5:3).
When Tattenai and Shethar-Boznai heard the reports that the Jews were building a temple, they personally traveled to Jerusalem to ask by what authority the Jews were doing it. After all, the Jews were a conquered people, which meant that major building projects by them had to be cleared through the proper Medo-Persian channels. By God’s favor, the work was allowed to continue while Tattenai sent an official letter of inquiry to King Darius, who was the ruler of Persia at that time (5:4-5). Ezra provides a full copy of the letter as part of his record of the events (5:6-17).
In Tattenai’s letter, he explained to Darius that the leaders of Judah were saying that the building project had been authorized years earlier by a previous Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great (5:6-16). Tattenai ended his letter by asking that the city of Babylon’s official records be searched in order to find out if the story was true. Regardless of what the search uncovered, Tattenai would carry out Darius’ wishes as to whether or not to allow the building to continue (5:17).
Darius complied with Tattenai’s request by decreeing that Persia’s archival records be searched (6:1), but looking in Babylon proved fruitless. There was, however, a vidicating scroll found in the palace of Achmetha (Ecbatana), a city located some 300 miles northeast of Babylon. Achmetha (Ecbatana) was the capital of Media and had been a summer home for Cyrus the Great. Evidently, he had spent the summer there the year he had issued the decree allowing the Jews to return to Judah and build the temple. Once the scroll was found, Darius ordered Tattenai and his colleagues to let the work on the temple continue (6:2-7).
Additionally, Darius issued a decree stating that the people of Judah were to be given whatever materials and livestock they needed to complete the temple and offer the daily sacrifices upon its altar (6:8-10). Darius himself would foot the bill for it all by paying for it out of taxes collected from the region located to the west of the Euphrates river. Darius even ordered that anyone who ignored the decree was to be executed (6:11). That included not only Tattenai and his group but also the meddlesome Samaritans. You talk about God working through a lost Gentile king to bless His people and His work! If Tattenai had sent his letter in an effort to stop the building of the temple, his plan had surely backfired!
This part of the story of the building of the second temple ends with Ezra 6:13-14, and I’ll provide those verses as part of this post. As you read them, pay careful attention to the words I emphasize concerning the ministries of Haggai and Zechariah. The verses say:
Then Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, Shethar-Boznai, and their companions diligently did according to what KIng Darius had sent. So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia (N.K.J.V.)
In closing, let me say that men who faithfully and accurately proclaim the messages that God gives them are always needed. While it’s true that today’s pastors and preachers don’t literally speak new words that have just fallen from God’s lips, that doesn’t mean that these men are automatically inferior to the Old Testament prophets. Actually, they have certain advantages over the Old Testament prophets, namely the indwelling Holy Spirit and the canonized written word of God. That’s why you should heed their preaching by applying it to your life. Does God still speak through His preachers today? Certainly He does! The real question is: Are you listening to what He is saying through them or are you tuning Him out by tuning them out?