Enemies try to stop the work
1 The Israelites who had returned to Jerusalem from exile were building the temple for the Lord, Israel's God. The enemies of the people of Judah and Benjamin heard that the Israelites had begun to build. 2 They went to speak to Zerubbabel and to the leaders of the Israelite families. They said, ‘Let us help you to build the temple. We also want to worship your God. We have lived in this country since Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, brought us here. All this time we have made sacrifices to your God.’
4:1Judah and Benjamin were the two Israelite tribes that had been taken to Babylon as prisoners. Now they had returned to Jerusalem and the other towns of their home country.
3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the other leaders of Israel's people said, ‘No. You cannot help us to build the temple for our God. We must build it by ourselves for the Lord, Israel's God. That is what Cyrus, king of Persia, has commanded us to do.’
4 Then the people who lived near them tried to make Judah's people afraid. They tried to stop them building. 5 They paid bribes to government officers to work against the Israelite builders. Then they could not do the work. They continued to do this all the time that King Cyrus ruled Persia, until Darius became king.
More trouble for the Jews
6 When Xerxes became king of Persia, Judah's enemies wrote a letter to him. They said that the people who lived in Jerusalem and the rest of Judah were doing a bad thing.
4:6Xerxes was the son of King Darius. He was also called Ahasuerus. In this part of his book, Ezra is describing things that happened later, after the temple had been built. Now they were building the city's walls (verse 12).
7 Later, when Artaxerxes was king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and their friends wrote a letter to him. They wrote it in the Aramaic language. People translated it for the king to understand. 8 Rehum, the city's ruler, and Shimshai, his officer, wrote this letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes. This is what it said:
9 Rehum, your ruler, and Shimshai, his officer, write this letter to you. The other officers who work with us also send this letter to you. They are the judges and other officers and leaders, together with the people who came here from Erech, Babylon and Susa (the Elamites). 10 It also comes from people of other nations who came to live in Samaria's cities. The great King Ashurbanipal sent those people to live in Samaria and in the region that is on the west side of the River Euphrates.
4:9Elamites were people who lived in a country east of Israel.
4:10The kings of Assyria moved prisoners to go and live a long way from their homes. Foreign people had come to live in Samaria, which had been part of Israel's kingdom. The Assyrians did not want the Israelites to take back the land for themselves.
11 This is the letter that they sent to Artaxerxes:
‘To King Artaxerxes,
from your servants in the land west of the Euphrates river.
12 We want to tell the king what the Jews here are doing. They came here to Jerusalem from Babylon. Jerusalem has always been a bad city whose people do not obey their rulers. Now they are building the city again. They are building the city's walls and the foundations for other buildings.
13 So you should know that there will be trouble. If they build this city again, with its walls, they will not pay any more taxes to you. You will not receive any more money from them as their king. 14 We serve you as our king. We do not want you to lose honour. So we have sent this letter to you. 15 You should look for the books where your ancestors recorded news about Jerusalem. Then you will read many bad things about this city. You will see that its people have always turned against their rulers. Since long ago, they have not obeyed the kings or the region's officers. It is because they are so wicked that Babylon's army destroyed the city. 16 So, we are telling the king that you should not let these people build up this city again, with its walls. If they do that, you will no longer have any authority in this region that is west of the Euphrates river.’
17 The king of Persia sent this reply:
‘To Rehum, my ruler, Shimshai, his officer, and all their friends in Samaria and in other parts of the region west of the Euphrates river. I thank you for your news.
18 People have translated the letter that you sent to me. They read it for me to listen to. 19 Then I commanded them to look in the old books. I have seen what the books say about Jerusalem. It is true that its people have always turned against the kings that ruled them. Since long ago, they have never obeyed their rulers. 20 In the past, powerful kings have ruled over Jerusalem and all the region west of the Euphrates river. They received many kinds of taxes from the people there. 21 Now you must command these people to stop their work. They must not build the city again until I decide to let them do it. 22 You must be very careful to make sure that they stop. We do not want the danger to our kingdom to become any greater. Our authority to rule them as kings must continue.’
23 Rehum, his officer, Shimshai, and their friends heard what the king's letter said. So they immediately took it to the Jews in Jerusalem. They used their power to command the Jews to stop their work.
24 So the people did no more work on God's temple in Jerusalem. The work stopped until the second year that King Darius ruled Persia.