Heart of the Story: Governor Rehum didn’t want the Jews to have the security of a wall around Jerusalem. He manipulated King Artaxerxes into supporting his position.
Backstory: During the reigns of Persian Kings Xerxes (485-465 BC) and Artaxerxes 1 (465-424 BC), officials in the Trans-Euphrates satrapy thwart the Jews from rebuilding Jerusalem’s protective wall. One official was Rehum, identified in Ezra 4 as a commanding officer. Rehum wasn’t a military officer, but a high government official, e.g., governor or chancellor. Apparently, he lived in Samaria. The Bible narrative of Rehum’s opposition to rebuilding Jerusalem walls sandwiched between Ezra 4:5 and Ezra 4:24. Chronologically, Rehum’s actions fit better in the initial chapters of Nehemiah or as background to Nehemiah.
For ancient civilizations a city wall had physical and psychological importance. Physically, the wall protected citizens from invading arms and prevented robbers and cut-throats from troubling residents by day and night. Psychologically, the wall was a source of security and pride. Ancient records often described the height and width of their city wall. Not having a city wall was an embarrassment; it indicated extreme poverty, laziness or indifference to human life on resident’s part.
The correspondence between Rehum and King Artaxerxes occurred in Artaxerxes first 20 years of rule, most likely toward the latter portion of the 20 year period. The western Persian Empire was in turmoil. Artaxerxes put down an Egyptian revolt in 459 BC and a revolt by the satrap (Megabysus) of Beyond the River around 448 BC (Rainey, 1969). Given these revolts, King Artaxeres was sensitive to any hint of rebellion in his western province. Governor Rehum’s suggestion that the Jews were formulating a rebellion got King Artaxerxes’ immediate attention.
Story Line: The letter to King Artaxerxes began with a description of governors, officials and groups who were in agreement with the letter. The men’s high ranks with the variety of represented nationalities would have impressed King Artaxerxes. Perhaps Artaxerxes didn’t know that some of the coalition members, e.g., the Elamities, were century-old enemies of the Jews who would miss no opportunity to under-mine the lives and well-being of returned Jews.
The letter’s initial thrust was that the Jews were rebuilding Jerusalem, called a rebellious and wicked city. The officials concluded that once Jerusalem was rebuilt, the Jews would no longer pay tribute, custom, and toll. Royal revenue from the area would dry up. Piously, Rehum assured King Artaxerxes that he and colleagues were writing because they were loyal to the palace and didn’t want to see the king dishonored. Rehum requested that the archives be searched to verify that indeed Jerusalem was destroyed because it was a rebellious city. He concluded with dire warning that if the Jerusalem walls were built, the King and by extension Persia would have nothing left west of the Euphrates River.
King Artaxerxes had the royal archives searched and found that Rehum was correct: Jerusalem was a place of rebellion and sedition. Further, at one time Jerusalem’s kings ruled and taxed much of the land west of the Euphrates River. In a return letter, King Artaxerxes ordered Rehum to stop the Jews from further construction in Jerusalem. His letter was emphatic—the Jewish threat to Persia shouldn’t be allowed to grow.
After reading Artaxerxes letter Rehum and associates went immediately to Jerusalem and compelled the Jews to stop rebuilding Jerusalem to include the city walls. Possibly, Rehum even destroyed some structures and walls that were rebuilt by Jews who lived in Jerusalem.
Analysis of Relationships: Little is known about Governor Rehum in either Bible or historical literature. Rehum was a common Jewish and Aramaic name in the Persian Empire. Despite being a governor for the Persian Empire, Rehum was probably not Persian. His letter was written in Aramaic rather than in the Persian language. Aramaic was the language used for Babylonian official correspondence (NIV, ESV). Probably Artaxerxes, a Persian emperor, would have needed Rehum’s letter translated.
Governor Rehum manipulated the truth and played on King Artaxerxes fear of rebellion in Trans-Euphrates. Rehum’s letter was correct in that Jerusalem had a history as a rebellious city. At the same time, fewer than 100,000 Jews lived in and around Jerusalem in the tiny Judean province; most were famers and small-time craftsmen with families. The Jews didn’t have a standing army. They couldn’t challenge the might of Persia or even the soldiers garrisoned throughout the Trans-Euphrates satrapy. Rehum’s claim that if the Jews rebuilt the Jerusalem walls, Persia would have no revenue from the immense Trans-Euphrates satrapy was absurd.
The coalition of important men, regions, and nationalities who sent the letter to Artaxerxes was substantial and far-reaching. Seemingly, the Jews didn’t have treaties or pacts with other tribes or nations in the Trans-Euphrates satrapy. There was no Jewish representative or diplomat in Rehum court to explain why the Jews wanted a wall around Jerusalem. The returned exiles didn’t recognize the importance of building alliances or having representation at regional courts.
When Rehum’s letter to King Artaxerxes is compared to Tattenai’s to King Darius, the differences are noteworthy. Rehum didn’t go to Jerusalem to learn first-hand what the Jews were doing or wanted to do. Rehum already made up his mind about the motives and future activities of the Jews. In contrast, Tattenai reported only what he observed and heard. Further, Rehum told King Artaxerxes what to look for in the archives, e.g., Jerusalem was a rebellious city, to confirm his conclusions, while Tattenai asked archival information to clarify and verify the Jewish situation. Rehum revealed himself as an alarmist with an anti-Semitic agenda.
Reflection: Who would you prefer to govern you: Tattenai or Rehum? Who would you prefer to work for you: Tattenai or Rehum? Think about or discuss you answer to both questions.