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Ezra 4:6-23 – Later Opposition

Summary

Later accusations registering complaints-about the building of the Jerusalem walls rather than the temple-in the form of letters between the opposition and the Persian throne are cited, perhaps to indicate the persistent nature of the opposition. From 4:8 until 6:18 the text is in Aramaic, the official language of the Persian Empire.

Analysis

Two of the opposition's letters are mentioned in passing, with no recorded royal response: one to Ahasuerus (that is, Xerxes I, 486-465 B.C.E., v. 6) and a second to Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.E., v. 7). Rehum's letter (4:11-16) and Artaxerxes' reply (4:17-22) are a different matter. Here, Rehum, speaking for the officials of the Persian satrapy of "Beyond the River," accuses the Jewish community of rebellion and sedition. This can be seen in the Jewish rebuilding of that "rebellious and wicked city," that is, Jerusalem (v. 12), which will result in loss of revenue in "tribute, custom, or toll" (v. 13). Rehum's charges conclude with an invitation for the king to search his own records for the rebellious history of this troublesome city that necessitated its destruction in the first place (vv. 14-16). The effectiveness of Rehum's attack can be seen in Artaxerxes's response that closes with a work stoppage (v. 23). Verse 24 returns us to the cessation of work on the temple during the reign of Darius. The continuing theme of opposition highlights the tentative nature of the community as well as their continuing dependence upon God.

Ezra 4:6-23

Rebuilding of Jerusalem Opposed

6 In the reign of Ahasuerus, in his accession year, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

7 And in the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to King Artaxerxes of Persia; the letter was written in Aramaic and translated.* 8Rehum the royal deputy and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes as follows 9(then Rehum the royal deputy, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the envoys, the officials, the Persians, the people of Erech, the Babylonians, the people of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10and 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 wrote—and now 11this is a copy of the letter that they sent):

‘To King Artaxerxes: Your servants, the people of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now 12may it be 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. 13Now may it be 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 reduced. 14Now because we share the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonour, therefore we send and inform the king, 15so that a search may be made in the annals of your ancestors. You will discover in the annals that this is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from long ago. On that account this city was laid waste. 16We 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 royal deputy 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 18the letter that you sent to us has been read in translation before me. 19So I made a decree, and someone searched and discovered that this city has risen against kings from long ago, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. 20Jerusalem has had mighty kings who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. 21Therefore issue an order that these people be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until I make a decree. 22Moreover, 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 the scribe Shimshai and their associates, they hurried to the Jews in Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease.

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10 February 2011

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