Zerubbabel Rebuilds the Temple
THE captive city of Jerusalem must rise again! So predicted the prophet Isaiah two hundred years in advance. When he declared this prophecy of reconstruction and restoration, Jerusalem had not as yet even been desolated, was not to be desolated, in fact, for still some 130 years. Prior to the fall of Jerusalem the prophet Jeremiah foretold the time of desolation as stretching over seventy reproachful years, years during which the land would be desolated and its former inhabitants held captive in Babylon. Yet at the end of that time the temple was to be rebuilt and the city restored to its teeming life by the liberated Babylonish captives. The great Keeper of times and seasons, Jehovah God, had so declared and gone on record in His Word. Would release come on time?
That Babylon should have compassion on the Jewish captives was not to be expected, for it was said prophetically of Babylon’s king that he “opened not the house of his prisoners”. (Isa. 14:4, 17) Only by overthrow of mighty Babylon was release to come, and that overthrow was foretold to come at the hands of Cyrus. (Isa. 45:1, 13) Sixty-eight years of captivity crawl by, with no sign of release from Babylon. On a night in 539 B.C. blasphemy against the God of the Hebrews mounts even higher. King Belshazzar caps the wickedness of his party of wild and drunken revelry by profanely using the golden and silver vessels stolen from Jehovah’s temple to drink wine and toasts to his demon gods and idols. Who could ever smash mighty Babylon and spring from captivity the puny Hebrews? Why, the foretold King Cyrus! On that very night Babylon fell to the joint forces of Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian and Belshazzar was slain. Aged Darius’ brief reign over Babylon is succeeded by that of Cyrus, in 537 B.C. Now the last few grains of the sands of time measuring the appointed seventy years of Jerusalem’s desolation trickle out. The time is up! But with the same precision timing that marks the movements of the heavenly bodies in the vast solar systems of the universe, the great Jehovah keeps the set schedule for liberation and restoration. In that very year of 537 B.C. Cyrus issues the decree:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Jehovah, the God of Israel (he is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever is left, in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the freewill-offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.”—Ezra 1:1-4, Am. Stan. Ver.
King Cyrus also restored to the Jewish remnant that departed from Babylon “the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods”. These vessels for temple service Cyrus committed into the hands of a prince of Judah named “Sheshbazzar”. But that was only the Babylonian name for Zerubbabel, a lineal descendant of King David and who was made governor of the restored remnant and charged with supervising the rebuilding of the temple. (Ezra 1:7, 8; 2:2; 5:14-16) “Zerubbabel” means “scatterer or grief of Babylon; stranger or banished at Babylon”. With Governor Zerubbabel returned nearly 50,000 devoted men and women, reconstructors, including Nethinim and other servants of good-will.—Ezra, chapter 2.
The return of the remnant to their homeland was so timed that in the very month of the year in which the complete desolation of the land went into effect a new altar was erected at the temple site in Jerusalem and the remnant were able to celebrate the feast of tabernacles, seventy years later to the month. (Ezra 3:1-6) The work of rebuilding the temple was pushed, and soon the foundation was laid amid shouts of praise and tears of joy. (Ezra 3:7-13) But at this point opposition to the work rears its ugly head. When heathen adversaries hear of the rebuilding of the temple they come forward with crafty offers to assist, to which Zerubbabel and his counselors answer: “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.”—Ezra. 4:1-3.
But when the enemies’ insincere offers of assistance were rejected and their attempts to infiltrate a fifth-column failed, subtlety gave way to open opposition. Religious persecution plagued the temple-builders all the days of Cyrus, and a smear campaign of letter-writing to Cyrus’ successor Artaxerxes charging sedition caused official ban to be slapped on the temple-building work. The letter to Artaxerxes read:
“If this city be rebuilt and its walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and immediately it will injure the revenue of the kings. Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to behold the king’s dishonor, therefore we have sent and informed the king, that search be made in the book of the records of your fathers; for you will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city and one that causes damage to kings and provinces and that the Jews have stirred up sedition in it from ancient times.” Artaxerxes replied: “Give command that these men cease and that this city be not rebuilt.” When the opposers received this satisfying reply they “went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews, and by force and compulsion made them stop” the temple-rebuilding. The work remained at a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius II, king of Persia.—Ezra 4:4-24, An Amer. Trans.
After about sixteen years of inactivity, Jehovah God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir Zerubbabel and the builders to action. Their fiery words of exhortation fell like sparks on tinder, and roused Zerubbabel from his apathy and spurred him to zealous activity. The work went on, despite official ban! But again the letterwriters protested to the king, who by this time was Darius II. Courageously and in faith the temple-builders stood fast for their freedom of worship; they argued the legality of their work by reference to the original decree of King Cyrus. Was it not the rule that the law of the Medes and Persians changed not? Thereupon King Darius had search made in the state archives, and the decree of Cyrus was uncovered. Back came Darius’ reply to the adversaries:
“Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God in its place. Moreover I make a decree in regard to what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the building of this house of God: that out of the king’s funds from the tribute of the province beyond the River the expenses be paid in full to these men, and that without delay. Whatever is needed, both young bulls and rams and lambs for burnt-offerings to the God of the heavens, wheat, salt, wine, and oil according to the word of the priests at Jerusalem, let it be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer sacrifices of a soothing odor to the God of the heavens; and pray for the life of the king and his sons. Also I make a decree that any man who alters this command, a beam shall be pulled out from his house and he shall be impaled upon it, and his house shall be made a refuse-heap for this. The God who has caused his name to dwell there shall overthrow any king or people who shall put forth his hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God, which is in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have issued a decree, let it be executed to the letter.”—Ezra 6:7-12, An Amer. Trans.
With this legal victory and material assistance, Zerubbabel and his builders pushed the work to a successful finish during the next four years. The account reads: “And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.”—Ezra 6:14, 15.
In the rebuilding of the temple Zerubbabel is a type of Christ Jesus, who builds up the spiritual temple on heavenly Mount Zion. With even greater force do the words of Zechariah and Haggai to Zerubbabel apply to Christ Jesus: “This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.” “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.”—Zech. 4:6, 7; Hag. 2:20-23.