Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.V.
(1-2) Now occurs the intervention of the two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, whose testimonies and predictions should at this point be read. They reveal a state of apathy which Ezra does not allude to; such a state of things, in fact, as would have thwarted the whole design of Providence had it not been changed. Hence the abrupt return of the spirit of prophecy, some of the last utterances of which provoked or “stirred up “—as Cyrus had been stirred up—the spirit of the two leaders and of the heads of the families.
Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.(2) Then rose up.—This does not intimate that they had become indifferent. But the voice of prophecy inspirited them to go on without formal permission of Darius, who was known secretly to favour them already.
The prophets of God helping them.—In these two prophets we can read the invigorating sayings that encouraged the people almost from day to day and from stage to stage of their work.
At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?(3-17) Tatnai’s appeal to Darius.
(3) Tatnai, governor on this side the river.—Satrap, or Pechah, of the entire province of Syria and Phœnicia, and therefore with a jurisdiction over Judaea, and over Zerubbabel its Pechah or sub-Satrap. What Shimshai was to the Samaritan Pechah, Rehum, Shethar-boznai seems to be to Tatnai—his secretary.
Who hath commanded you?—It is obvious that the overthrow of Smerdis, the Magian hater of Zoroastrianism and destroyer of temples, had encouraged the builders to go on without fearing molestation from the Court of Darius. Moreover, the two prophets had made their duty too plain to be deferred. Still, the decree of the preceding chapter had never been expressly revoked.
Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?(4) Then said we.—The LXX. must here have read, “then said they.” But there is no need to change the text; the sentence is not a question, but a statement: “we said to the effect, what the names were.”
What are the names of the men . . .?—It is clear that this graphic account is much compressed. We must understand (see Ezra 5:10) that the authorities demanded the names of the chief promoters of the building in order to make them responsible.
But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter.(5) And then they returned answer.—And [till] they should receive answer. It is implied that “the eye of their God” was with special vigilance fixed on the work, and it will appear that His influence was upon the officials of Persia as well as upon the rulers of the Jews. The letter that follows shows this.
The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and his companions the Apharsachites, which were on this side the river, sent unto Darius the king:(6) The copy of the letter.—This letter of Tatnai is introduced much in the same way as Helium’s; but its dispassionateness and good faith are in striking contrast with the latter.
Apharsachites.—Probably here the same as the Apharsites before, and suggesting some kind of Persian guard. But the reason of their introduction specifically here is obscure.
Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands.(8) To the house of the great God.—A solemn tribute to the God of the Jews, which, however, the decree of Cyrus enables us to understand in this official document. Tatnai probably dwelt at Damascus, and when he went to Jerusalem was deeply impressed. But he only gives a statement of the progress which he observed in the Temple. “The walls here are the walls within the Temple, not the city walls.
And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up.(11) And thus they returned us answer.—The elders of the Jews take the Syrian satrap into their confidence, and give, in a few most pathetic words the record of their national honour, their national infidelity, and their national humiliation. Every word is true to the history, while the whole exhibits their deep humility and holy resolution.
But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.(12) Gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean.—These words not only show that the people regarded themselves as punished by the sole hand of God, but also remind the overthrowers of the Chaldean power that they also themselves are no more than instruments of the same Divine will.
And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place.(15) Take these vessels, go, carry them . . . and let the house of God . . .—The three imperatives in this verse, without a copula, followed by a fourth, vividly express the feeling of the suppliants in the remembrance of the decree: thus we have another note of historical truth.
Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.(16) Since that time.—No account is taken of the long interruption. Whether these words are part of the answer given to Tatnai by the Jewish leaders, or his own statement to Darius, it is evident that the unfinished building of a house decreed to be built by Cyrus is regarded as demanding investigation as to the nature and validity of the decree itself.
Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter.(17) Let there be search made.—All depended on the original decree, which nothing done intermediately by the usurper could cancel. And the request of Tatnai seems to imply that it would be found: although the original was not found in Babylon, as was expected, a copy had been made.