Tensions mounted between the local people and the Jews returning from Babylonian exile. The returnees refused the locals’ offer of aid in building the temple. This led the locals to actively oppose the rebuilding efforts by writing letters to Persian officials claiming that the Jews would rebel if they were allowed to refortify themselves. The construction was halted temporarily as a result.
As the Israelites started rebuilding the temple, some of the locals approached Zerubbabel and the chiefs of the clans and asked if they could assist with the rebuilding. Their offer was refused, ostensibly because of political reasons, which led the locals to oppose the reconstruction. The locals attempted to bribe Persian ministers in order to thwart the plans of the returnees.
The local opposition began a lengthy correspondence with Persian officials, accusing the returnees of various charges outlined in copies of letters in the text. An interesting feature of this section is its preservation of the letters in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the time. The Aramaic section extends from Ezra 4:8 to 6:18. It includes several official Aramaic documents.
Verse 10 and other verses of this chapter mention a region “on this side of the river” or “beyond the river.” This is a Persian province identified with all the territory west of the Euphrates River, including Judah and extending into Egypt.
The letter writers tried to stop the rebuilding of the temple by claiming that once the city was rebuilt and refortified, the inhabitants could potentially rebel against the king and withhold the payment of future taxes and tribute, as the letter writers claimed the Jews had done in the past. They emphasized their own loyalty to the king and the king’s past support for them and invited him to refer to past records of the Jews’ former rebellions.
In his reply, the king mentioned that he searched earlier records and confirmed past rebellious actions. He subsequently ordered a prompt cessation of all rebuilding efforts unless he commanded otherwise in the future.
The copy of the king’s letter was read to the local officials, who promptly returned to Jerusalem and forced the Jews to cease construction. According to verse 24, work did not resume until the second year of Darius’s reign. This Darius is not to be confused with Darius the king of Babylon mentioned in the book of Daniel or Darius the last king of Persia who was defeated by Alexander the Great in 330 BC.
Encountering opposition when trying to build (or rebuild in this case) God’s kingdom and temple is a common theme throughout the history of God’s people. These growing communities pose a political threat or conflict of interest to the locals. Repeatedly, early Saints in our dispensation faced opposition in their temple building when efforts stalled because of these types of conflicts with local peoples who feared the growing size and influence of the Latter-day Saint communities.