(Governor Zerubabbel rejecting Samaritan assistance in building Temple, from google images.)
References: Ezra Chapters 1-4:5; 6:16-22
Heart of the Story: Zerubbabel was the first governor of the Jews who returned from Babylon to Judea. His task was to rebuild God’s Temple. He is listed as an ancestor of Christ.
When the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon (539 B.C.), he gave Jews permission to go to Jerusalem. He ordered them to build a Temple to their God. Cyrus gave to Sheshbazzar the Temple articles that Nebuchadnezzar carried into Babylon. Study Bibles and scholars equivocate on whether Sheshbazzar was the Persian name for Zerubbabel or if the two were different men; however, the New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (2011) noted that Sheshbazzar was Zerubabbel’s Chaldean name.
Zerubabbel was the first political leader of the approximately 50,000 Jews who went to Jerusalem in 538-537 B.C. Although he is referred to as a governor, his authority was limited to the Jews who returned with him. Along with the chief priest Jeshua, Zerubabbel spear-headed construction of the second Jerusalem Temple. The Jews who went to Judea represented three Israelite tribes, Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. Judah and Benjamin are the tribes of the Southern Kingdom that remained loyal to the Jerusalem Temple and David’s dynasty. Levites were priests (descendants of Aaron) and others from the tribe of Levi to include singers and men who assisted the priests. Most of these Jews were born in Babylon; very few ever lived in Judea.
About three months after the Jews settled in Judea, they met in Jerusalem. It was the seventh month, Tishri (roughly September-October), the month of the great Day of Atonement. Zerubabbel and Jeshua rebuilt the Temple altar. From the first day of Tishri, priests offered burnt sacrifices on the altar. The Jews celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles (Booths) which commemorated the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
The new Temple was to be built on the site of the destroyed one. The following year, the foundations of the Temple were laid (Ezra 3:11) (536 B.C.). Construction began in the second month (Ziv) of the second year after the Jew’s arrival in Jerusalem. At that time people e.g., Samaritans, who lived in the land approached Zerubabbel. They offered to help build the Temple noting they worshiped the same God as the returned exiles. After consulting Jeshua, Zerubbabel declined their offer. He explained that King Cyrus commanded the returned exiles to build the Temple.
Apparently offended by Zerubbabel’s response, the people of the land discouraged the Jews from continuing their building efforts. The Jews were so intimidated that they were afraid, even terrified, to work on the Temple. The people of the land bribed counselors to frustrate Jewish efforts. This harassment continued about 16 years; in that time Temple building slowed (536-530 B. C.) and eventually ceased altogether (530-520 B. C.).
In early autumn, 520 B.C. a prophet Haggai received a message from God. God reprimanded the Jews for living in their paneled houses while the Temple remained in ruins (Haggai 1:4). The drought in Judea and subsequent poor harvests were the direct results of the Jew’s failure to build God’s house. Immediately, Zerubabbel, Jeshua, and the Jewish remnant resumed construction of the Temple. Both King Darius and Tattenai, the governor of the Trans-Euphrates area supported Zerubabbel’s building efforts. The Temple was completed and dedicated in 516 B.C., 22 years after Cyrus order the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and almost 70 years after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians.
Often in Jewish history, tension existed between the civilian and ecclesiastical authorities. None of these tensions were depicted in these 20 plus years. Zerubbabel and Jeshua acted in concert to restore Jews to their homeland with the restoration of the Temple a high priority.
The people of the land approached Zerubbabel about assisting the Jews with Temple construction; however, after consulting with Jeshua, Zerubbabel refused their assistance. This vignette demonstrated that God’s people shouldn’t always accept assistance from others, particularly when their beliefs and actions aren’t consistent with belief in the true God and God’s Word. Certainly, the Samaritan’s help would have allowed temple construction to progress faster; however, it could have resulted in pollution of the Temple. For example, the Samaritan worship of God was interwoven with the worship of gods and goddesses from their countries of origin (2 Kings 17:24-33). If Zerubbabel accepted their help to build the Temple, the Samaritans would have a right to worship in it. From the beginning, Temple worship would have been polluted by foreign beliefs.
I’m not sure why Zerubbabel allowed opponents to slow down and stop Temple construction. True, the Jews were terrified of the people who lived in the land; yet, surely Zerubbabel realized that God was more powerful than any opponents. Possibly Zerubbabel’s reaction mirrored that of the first generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt who was afraid. They knew only a life of slavery, thus, they didn’t believe they could conquer the Promised Land. Maybe initially Zerubbabel had doubts that God’s will was for the exiles to be back in Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple.
For their first 20 years in Judea, the returned Jews didn’t have a prophet who spoke God’s message to them. Even though he was the political leader, Zerubbabel needed to be aroused by the words of prophet Haggai and encouraged by Zechariah’s visions. To Zerubbabel, a prophet in their midst meant God’s favor on them and direct message to the restored Jews.
Conclusion: Undoubtedly, Zerubbabel knew the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and even Ezekiel that God would restore the Jews to the land of Judah. He was a good first restoration governor; yet, he allowed himself to be overcome by enemies so that the Jews delayed the building of God’s Temple in Jerusalem.
Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14.