As one could expect, there were bumps along the way with rebuilding the Temple. Cyrus gave the order for the Israelites to rebuild, but there were many people ready to stand in their way. We may experience similar ups and downs in our own lives. The devil is persistent, but if we keep following God's way, we will come out triumphant, just as the Israelites did.
The first thing the Israelites do is rebuild the altar; it takes them 7 months to get the altar back up and operational. Once the altar was in place, they all gathered in Jerusalem to bring offerings to God. This took priority because the act of giving to God and communing with God was more important that a building. People today are often obsessed with the building itself, ascribing folklore and superstitions about what can and can't happen in the building. We should remember that tending to His business and His Will should always take precedence over a building.
The Feast of Tabernacles was also celebrated, while everyone was gathered. The returning Israelites dutifully followed the law of Moses regarding sacrifices, even though they had not rebuilt the Temple. Considering the fact that mankind and the Israelites had worshipped God without a Temple for thousands of years before Solomon, it was a safe assumption that the altar should be rebuilt first.
Like before, they bring wood for the Temple from Tyre. The construction began in the second year of their return, much sooner in comparison to the Exodus. This eagerness, however, was quickly silenced by their enemies.
Judah's enemies first offered to help build the Temple; this was an effort to take ownership of the Temple and be able to control Judah. Thus, when the Israelites refused their help, these enemies took to petitioning the king. Although these enemies had claimed to be seeking God, their reaction seems a bit extreme. Nonetheless, we should also take note that this is likely the response we will receive if we act as though the Body of Christ is too exclusive for certain people. While we must be cautious of those trying to undermine God's Glory, we also have to be mindful of how we treat people. Turning away someone who is truly seeking God could not only ruin their relationship with God, but cause problems for us too. Because of the Israelites' snub, the enemies tried to make it more difficult for Judah.
After Artaxerxes takes the throne, an exchange occurs between Artaxerxes and the enemies, in which the enemies described the rebelliousness of the city of Jerusalem. They warned the king that warning that if it were completely rebuilt, it would disrupt the Israelites from paying tribute. Upon hearing this, Artaxerxes commanded that the city not be rebuilt. After Artaxerxes put a halt to the reconstruction process, work on the Temple didn't resume until the second year of Darius.
Matthew Henry suggests that the king referred to as Artaxerxes is the same as Ahasuerus (mentioned in verse 6) and Cambyses, the ruler who followed Cyrus. Others suggest that Ahaserus referred to Cambyses while Artaxerxes refers to Smerdis, a king who reigned briefly between Cambyses and Darius I. Others believe that the text from Ezra 4:6-23 is parenthetical, to show that throughout the Persian reign, the kings of Persia received letters from people complaining about the Jews.
All three solutions explain the timeline given in Ezra 4. I would lean toward the Ahasuerus being Cambyses and Artaxerxes referring to Smerdis. The Persian kings often had dual names, so it stands to reason that these could have been their other names. However, Ahasuerus is thought to be Xerxes I and is the king Esther marries. The question, however, is whether Ahasuerus in Esther is the same Ahasuerus. There were 2 Darius' and 4 Artaxerxes in the Persian empire, so the possibility exists.
Nonetheless, we are told that upon completion, the returnees who had seen the original temple wept, but those who had not shouted for joy. Together, they made a great noise that could be heard, but could not be distinguished as joyous or sorrowful from a distance. Solomon's Temple had been grand and central to their identity. This new Temple, while nice, was no where near as ornate and magnificent as the original. This probably felt very personal to those who had seen the first Temple; they may have thought their culture had been devalued.
References and Footnotes
- Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Bible Study, pg 799-803. 2014
- Matthew Henry. "Ezra 4 Commentary". via Bible Study Tools; visited March 2017
- Eric Lyons. "Kingly Chronology in the Book of Ezra". Apologetics Press. 2005