When the people start building the temple, the enemy comes into action. God does not intervene. He acknowledges the reign of the nations, which has come because of the unfaithfulness of His people. Although He does not intervene, He is not indifferent to what His people do and what happens to them. He waits until the time is ripe for His people to be stirred back into action.
1 - 5 Enemies Want to Cooperate
1 Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ [households], and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.” 3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ [households] of Israel said to them, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, 5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
As soon as the foundation is laid, the enemies appear on the scene, as they did at the beginning of the church (verses 1-2). The first attack does not come from the inside, but from the outside. As soon as there is a blessing from God somewhere on earth, the devil with his trickery and enmity immediately comes. The Spirit of God calls the men who wish to help build the temple, “enemies”. Their words sound friendly, but the Spirit immediately shows their true character. They are enemies. They seek the destruction of the few who have returned.
Their tactics are those of the devil trying to gain influence through wiles. Once they had gained a foothold in the city of God, their trickery would have succeeded and they would be able to carry out their pernicious work. Their plan is not to build, but to demolish. For the small and weak remnant, it is a temptation. The offer increases the number of hands for building. The building would be easier and faster. At least it would seem that way. The reality, however, is that their strength would diminish. The security and strength of the people lie in their separation to God. If that is forgotten, Christians will engage in worldly issues, which will be at the expense of building God’s house.
The enemies claim that they call upon the same God and have also brought sacrifices (verse 2). They take a friendly attitude, they want to make friendship. Here comes Satan “as an angel of light” (2Cor 11:14), while in verse 4 we see him “as a roaring lion” (1Pet 5:8).
Esarhaddon is the son of Sanherib and has taken away the rebellious tribes of Israel (2Kgs 17:6-8). Through him other nations were brought to Samaria. A mixture of religions has arisen, in which they worship the LORD and also serve their idols (2Kgs 17:41). According to their own confession, the adversaries do not belong to the people of God, even though they are in the land. They also know nothing of salvation through blood, they do not know God’s mighty deeds for His people. What they know they have heard of.
The offer to work together is a trap. The remnant sees through the trick and unmasks them as false workers (cf. Rev 2:2; 2Cor 11:13). The building of the temple should not be done by anyone but members of God’s people. Their answer is: “We ourselves” (verse 3). This is not a narrow-mindedness, but faithfulness to the LORD.
The church has forgotten that. Her history shows that she even consciously has been seeking the help of the world. We should not give up the special place of the church of God because we are only a weak remnant. We must never give up the principle that only those who are members of the body of Christ can take their place of responsibility in the work of the Lord. We must not give in to the spirit of our time.
The last words of verse 3 are a humbling confession of their position of bondage among the nations. Enclosed in them is the lack of former glory and the presence of weakness, both as a result of their failure and the judgment of God on it. Faith, however, counts on the grace that is present in God and that has made a new beginning possible. That is why there is also a courageous action and a refusal to connect with those who do not belong to God’s people. They speak in the spirit of what God says to the ungodly in Psalm 50 (Psa 50:16).
After the refusal, the true nature of the enemies reveals itself (verse 4). The flesh hates not to be counted in the work of God. Now the adversaries try through intimidation to disturb the work. The adversary does not consist of an incident, but persists as long as Cyrus lives (verse 5).
6 - 16 Accusations Against the Jews
6 Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. 7 And in the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his colleagues wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated [from] Aramaic. 8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes, as follows— 9 then [wrote] Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their colleagues, the judges and the lesser governors, the officials, the secretaries, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations which the great and honorable Osnappar deported and settled in the city of Samaria, and in the rest of the region beyond the River. Now 11 this is the copy of the letter which they sent to him: “To King Artaxerxes: Your servants, the men in the region beyond the River, and now 12 let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings. 14 Now because we are in the service of the palace, and it is not fitting for us to see the king’s dishonor, therefore we have sent and informed the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the record books of your fathers. And you will discover in the record books and learn that that city is a rebellious city and damaging to kings and provinces, and that they have incited revolt within it in past days; therefore that city was laid waste. 16 We inform the king that if that city is rebuilt and the walls finished, as a result you will have no possession in [the province] beyond the River.”
Verses 6-23 describe how the enemies are successful in stopping the work of the building of the temple. In the days of Ahasuerus or Arthahsasta, they write a letter to him in which they accuse the Jews. They do this as soon as he is king (verse 6). So they don’t waste any time.
In order to carry out their purpose to stop the building of the temple the enemies join forces. From the enumeration of who these enemies are (verses 7-10), it becomes clear that all nations commit themselves in their purpose to stop the building of the temple. However much they may differ from each other, they are one in their striving against what is from and for God. In their enmity they unite (Psa 2:2). Thus Herod and Pilate become “friends with one another” in their rejection of the Lord Jesus, “for before they had been enemies with each other” (Lk 23:12).
In their accusation, a copy of which has been preserved and is now quoted (verse 11), they mention several things that are intended to convince the king that construction should be stopped. In doing so, they use the necessary lies. The accusation that the Jews are rebuilding the city (verse 12) is a lie. It is about the temple and for that Cyrus has precisely given the order. Also the financial disadvantage that the king would suffer because the people “will not pay tribute, custom or toll” any longer (verse 13), is a lie.
As for themselves, the enemies praise themselves at Ahasuerus as loyal subjects (verse 14). They pretend to care about the honor and the importance of his reign. Saying that they “are in the service of the palace” they say that they are paid by the king’s court and that without what they get from the palace they would not be able to live. They pretend that they are so grateful to the king that they now warn him about what the Jews are doing, because that is to “the king’s dishonor” and it is not fitting for them to see that .
Similarly, enmity against Christ is often wrapped up in a hypocritical love for worldly rulers. The Jews hate the Roman regime but, because it serves their evil plans to kill Christ, they can shout: “We have no king but Caesar” (Jn 19:15).
Unfortunately, the accusation of a black past (verse 15) is partly true. The last kings of the two tribes, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, rebelled against their rulers to whom the LORD has surrendered them. The danger of loss of territory the enemies write about (verse 16), has also been made up again. They pull out all the stops to get the king to issue the commandment that the building of the temple should be stopped.
17 - 22 The King’s Answer
17 [Then] the king sent an answer to Rehum the commander, to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and in the rest of [the provinces] beyond the River: “Peace. And now 18 the document which you sent to us has been translated and read before me. 19 A decree has been issued by me, and a search has been made and it has been discovered that that city has risen up against the kings in past days, that rebellion and revolt have been perpetrated in it, 20 that mighty kings have ruled over Jerusalem, governing all [the provinces] beyond the River, and that tribute, custom and toll were paid to them. 21 So, now issue a decree to make these men stop [work], that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me. 22 Beware of being negligent in carrying out this [matter]; why should damage increase to the detriment of the kings?”
The answer comes (verse 17). After the usual introduction the king announces that the document has been read before him (verse 18). Then the king mentions that he has issued a decree to investigate the matter (verse 19). The findings of that investigation (verse 20) and the decree he gives (verse 21) show that he was misled by the deceit and lies of the writers of the document.
He did not carefully examine their statements about the Jews and what they are doing now. He has accepted the accusations as proven. As a result, he is prepared to send them a decree to stop the work. He urges the enemies to carry out his command quickly. He motivates the command with the words the enemies have used to incite him to act (verse 22; verse 13). Kings are extremely sensitive to loss of income. The enemies have used this sensitive point cunningly and successfully.
23 - 24 The Work Stopped
23 Then as soon as the copy of King Artaxerxes’ document was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their colleagues, they went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews and stopped them by force of arms. 24 Then work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased, and it was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The enemies immediately go to work with the king’s answer (verse 23). They go in haste to Jerusalem, to the Jews, and force them to stop building the temple in a harsh way. The Jews let themselves be forced to do so, though the desire of the LORD must prevail over the command of this king. The deceit succeeds because the first workings of God’s Spirit are no longer present through the seeking of one’s own interest (Hag 1:2-4,9). They have also forgotten the command of Cyrus, which is according to the will of God. Love has cooled down, the first love has been left.
Thus the building comes to a standstill for a period that will last around fifteen years. In the time that the building stops, the people must have occupied themselves with something else. What else will it be but with their own interests (Hag 1:4; Phil 2:21)? The work is stopped because of a lack of faith and trust in God, instead of the opposition bringing them to prayer.
The fact that the people finally put the work down is therefore not the result of the king’s command, but the result of a lack of faith. Perhaps they blamed the circumstances. If their faith had been directed toward God, He would have been with them. Spiritual prosperity, the power of faith, incites the (Christian) world to enmity. When searching for its own interests, the (Christian) world does not care about us. The light through which they are discovered in their true nature does not shine.
From Haggai it becomes clear that it is not only the opposition of the enemy that makes them lay down the work. In Haggai the enemies are not active, but God speaks to them. Their fear of the enemies is greater than their faith in God. Because they lose courage and think of themselves, they start looking for their own interests and start building and decorating their own houses.
God, in accordance with the times of the Gentiles, does not rise up in strength for His people, but He is going to do His work in the heart and conscience of the people (Zec 4:6). Likewise, we too have no position of power or means of power. Our power is: faith.