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“Even In Troublesome Times”

27 Aug

The one who succeeded Cyrus was his son, Cambyses, and is the one referred to in Ezra 4:6 as Ahasuerus. Secular history says that he reigned nearly 7 ½ years before dying of a wound incurred in battle. Nothing more is said of him in the word of God, probably because he did not do one thing to advance the condition of God’s people. On the contrary, during the whole time of his reign the building of both the city and the temple was interrupted.[1] His only service to God is to act as a figure in history who counts out seven and one half years in the march of God’s people toward their Messiah.

Upon the death of Cambyses there was a brief period of disorder when one of the magi tried to take the throne pretending to be Smerdis, the dead brother of Cambyses. However, order was restored again by the person secular history calls Darius Hystaspes, who took the throne of the empire away from the charlatan.[2] This Darius Hystaspes is called Artaxerxes in Ezra 4:7. Nehemiah desired leave of this same king in the 20th year of his reign. Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer and requested leave of his duties in Persia to return and rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1, 5-6). It is impossible, if one considers the flow of Ezra and Nehemiah, that this king could be anyone but Darius Hystaspes.

Traditionally, it is one, Darius (Ezra 4:24; cf 6:1-7), who was thought to have made an edict in the 2nd year of his reign to permit the building of the Temple of God; but this is not the case owing to the confusion of mistaking the titles used for these kings for their real names. It would appear from the word of God that Darius Hystaspes, called Artaxerxes in Ezra 4 and throughout Nehemiah, at first permitted the rebuilding of Jerusalem in the 20th year of his reign, which included its walls and Temple, but had second thoughts when the officials of the surrounding provinces kept complaining and accused Nehemiah of trying to set himself up as king (cf. Nehemiah 6:5-7; cf. Ezra 4:11-13), and he had Nehemiah’s rebuilding project forcibly stopped (Ezra 4:23), and probably at this very time Nehemiah was ordered to return to the king.

If we compare the content of the letter written to Artaxerxes, there can be little doubt that this is the same king who permitted Nehemiah to begin to rebuild the city of Jerusalem since reference is made to the walls: “and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations…” (Ezra 4:12) i.e. they have repaired the breaches – the walls go unbroken completely around Jerusalem. They were completely finished in length but not actually finished in height and breadth, as some claim they were, in a mere 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). Nor were they dedicated until Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem after the death of Artaxerxes. Would it not seem odd if the walls were built and there was no dedication (cp. Nehemiah 6:1, 15)? That the walls were not completely finished in Nehemiah’s first tenure in Jerusalem is evident further on in the letter to the king:

Ezra 4:16 “We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.”

Unless we conclude that their whole report is a lie, we must say these officials were bribed by the same people who continually gave Nehemiah trouble when he was governor of Judah (cf. Ezra 4:4-5 and Nehemiah 6:1-7). Remember, it is Nehemiah who set up the walls. When he arrived, no work was done to repair the breaches up to that time; for they were cast down as rubble, just as the Chaldeans had left them, broken and scattered, a reproach to God’s people (Nehemiah 2:13-17). And here in Ezra chapter 4 the officials report to the king that the breaches were completely closed around all of Jerusalem! Nehemiah stayed in Jerusalem as the appointed governor of Judah by the king and labored twelve years with the people to build the walls, not merely for fifty-two days as is interpreted from Nehemiah 6:15 (cf. Nehemiah 5:14-19 & Ezra 4:24). That neither the Temple nor the walls were completed at this time is evident from the Scripture:

Ezra 4:23-24 – “23 Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. 24 Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”

The walls, however, were rebuilt by none other than Nehemiah, and by him the breaches were repaired and built up during the reign of Artaxerxes. Therefore, this Artaxerxes must be the same as the monarch by that same title throughout the book of Nehemiah.


[1] Josephus – Antiquities of the Jews: Book XI Chap.2:2.

[2] It is possible that Darius Hystaspes, because of the Smerdis incident, was sensitive to rumors of an overthrow. Hystaspes is referred to in the word of God as Artaxerxes in both Ezra and Nehemiah, but he is not the Artaxerxes of Ezra 7.

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Posted by on August 27, 2010 in Old Testament History, Prophecy, Religion

 

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