Bible Commentaries
Ezra 5

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Ezra 5:0


The Rebuilding Continued(Ezra 4:23-22)Work on the Temple Begins Again(Ezra 4:24-17)The Rebuilding of the Temple [520-515 B.C.](Ezra 4:24-5)
Ezra 4:23-2
Restoration of the Temple ResumedEzra 4:24-2Ezra 4:24-2Ezra 4:24-2
Ezra 5:1-5
Ezra 5:3-5Ezra 5:3-17Ezra 5:3-5
The Governor's Letter to King Darius
Ezra 5:6-17Ezra 5:6-17Ezra 5:6-17

READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezra 5:1-2 1When the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them, 2then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them supporting them.

Ezra 5:1 “Haggai” See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Haggai (Taken from Dr. Utley's Old Testament Survey)

“Zechariah the son of Iddo” See Special Topic following.


“prophesied” This VERB (BDB 612) is a Hithpael PERFECT. It implies the supernatural presence and power of the Spirit of God (cf. Numbers 11:25-27; 1 Samuel 10:0; 1 Samuel 19:0).


“in the name of the God of Israel who was over them” The purpose of this phrase is to verify a renewed covenant relationship between the returning Israelites and the God of Israel. See Special Topic: “The Name” of YHWH.

Ezra 5:2 “Zerubbabel” For a good discussion of the theories about the relationship of Sheshbazzar to Zerubbabbel see Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason L. Archer, pp. 216-219.

“Jeshua” See notes at Ezra 2:2.

“arose” This Aramaic VERB (BDB 1110; KB 1086, Peal PERFECT) is used in the sense of “arise out of inactivity.”

Verses 3-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezra 5:3-5 3At that time Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues came to them and spoke to them thus, “Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?” 4Then we told them accordingly what the names of the men were who were reconstructing this building. 5But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until a report could come to Darius, and then a written reply be returned concerning it.

Ezra 5:3 “Tattenai, the governor” This seems to be a technical name (BDB 1108, KB 1955) for the governor of the Persian province west of the Euphrates River (cf. TEV). It is uncertain if he was the satrap of this province (cf. Ezra 8:36) or a lesser official appointed by the king (cf. 2 Kings 18:24; Daniel 3:2; Nehemiah 2:7, Nehemiah 2:9).

The reason for the ambiguity of the term for governmental officials is that during Darius I's reign he reorganized the Persian Empire from 522 regions into 20 (Herodotus 3.89). This reorganization and simplification was based on race and geography.

Both Zerubbabel (cf. Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:2, Haggai 2:21) and Nehemiah (cf. Nehemiah 12:26) are also called by this term (i.e., “governor of Judah”).

“'Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple'“ Either our text leaves out some of the dialogue (cf. TEV) or the Jews purposefully did not answer this question but instead gave the name of the builders (the LXX and Peshitta have “they said,” rather than the MT's “we said'). This is surprising since the book of Ezra records the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem twice, once in Hebrew (Ezra 1:1-4) and once in Aramaic (Ezra 6:1-5).

Verse Ezra 5:10 shows the purpose of the Persian leader's second question. It was for the purpose of intimidation and fear directed towards the Jewish leadership (i.e., “head,” BDB 1112).

NASB“to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure” NKJV“to build this temple and finish this wall” NRSV“to build this house and to finish this structure” TEV“to build this Temple and equip it” NJB“to rebuild this temple and complete this structure”

It is obvious from the above translations that the Aramaic term “structure” (BDB 1083, KB 1827) is ambiguous, but the general sense is clear.

Ezra 5:5 “the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews” This is an anthropomorphic idiom for God's attentive presence and care (cf. Psalms 32:8; Psalms 33:18; Psalms 34:15; Job 36:7; 1 Peter 3:12). A similar idiom is used in Ezra 7:6, Ezra 7:28 (i.e., “the hand of the LORD”).

God does not have a human body, but mankind's only vocabulary is related to the physical aspects of creation.

SPECIAL TOPIC: The Problems and Limitations of Human Language

“elders” The Septuagint has “captivity,” which reflects a different way to interpret the Hebrew consonantal text. Elders were central in the leadership structure of Moses' day (e.g., Exodus 18:13-27) as well as the pre-monarchial period. During the Monarchy their leadership was on a tribal and local level, not national. The post-exilic period restored their place of central leadership.

Verses 6-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezra 5:6-17 6This is the copy of the letter which Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai and his colleagues the officials, who were beyond the River, sent to Darius the king. 7They sent a report to him in which it was written thus: “To Darius the king, all peace. 8Let it be known to the king that we have gone to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God, which is being built with huge stones, and beams are being laid in the walls; and this work is going on with great care and is succeeding in their hands. 9Then we asked those elders and said to them thus, 'Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?' 10We also asked them their names so as to inform you, and that we might write down the names of the men who were at their head. 11Thus they answered us, saying, 'We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. 12But because our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon. 13However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. 14Also the gold and silver utensils of the house of God which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, and brought them to the temple of Babylon, these King Cyrus took from the temple of Babylon and they were given to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor. 15He said to him, “Take these utensils, go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem and let the house of God be rebuilt in its place.” 16Then that Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem; and from then until now it has been under construction and it is not yet completed.' 17Now if it pleases the king, let a search be conducted in the king's treasure house, which is there in Babylon, if it be that a decree was issued by King Cyrus to rebuild this house of God at Jerusalem; and let the king send to us his decision concerning this matter.”

Ezra 5:6 “Shethar-bozenai” This word (BDB 1117, KB 2003) can be a proper name (most English translations) or a title (“empire-delivering,” cf. The Jewish Study Bible, p. 1677). It always appears in conjunction with Tattenai, the governor (cf. Ezra 5:3, Ezra 5:6; Ezra 6:6, Ezra 6:13).

NASB, NJB, JPSOA“the officials” NKJV“the Persians” NRSV“the envoys” TEV“fellow officials” (Ezra 5:3)

This word (BDB 1082, KB 1822) is given three possible meanings.

1. a general name for a people group (i.e., Persian, cf. Daniel 6:28)

2. a title (i.e., lessor governor, cf. Ezra 4:9)

3. a proper name

“all peace” This must be a Persian idiom (cf. Daniel 4:1). The word “peace” (BDB 1116) means “prosperity” or “welfare” (cf. Daniel 6:26). See Special Topic: Peace (shalom).

Ezra 5:8 “the house of the great God” Even though the purpose of this report is negative, these Persian leaders know that the administration is tolerant to national gods. Therefore, they use the ADJECTIVE “great” in connection to YHWH. This is political correctness, not devotion or faith!

NASB“huge stones” NKJV“heavy stones” NRSV“hewn stones” TEV“large stone blocks” NJB“large stones”

Literally the Aramaic has “rolling stones” (BDB 1078, 1086), which may denote (1) the method of their transportation to the construction site (i.e., on rollers or logs) or (2) how they were polished (i.e., expensive stones). These large stones may have caused the Persian officials concerns that something more than a small temple was being constructed at their government's expense.

“and beams” This was a common construction technique of the ancient Near East, which was also used in constructing Solomon's temple (e.g., 1 Kings 6:36). Some speculate that it was a way to guard against earthquake damage (cf. Derek Kidner, Tyndale Commentary Series, p. 55)

Ezra 5:11 “the God of heaven and earth” This is a Persian title for deity (as is “God of heaven”). The Jews borrowed the titles used by the Persian Zoroastrians for their high god (Ahura Mazda) and applied them to YHWH.

“a great king of Israel” This refers to Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 6:0).

Ezra 5:12 This is the theological understanding of why YHWH allowed Israel and Judah to be defeated and exiled. In the ancient world nations warred on behalf of their god, under his/her protection and power, therefore, a military defeat reflected on the potency of the deities involved. However, in the case of the Israelites, it was their sin and rebellion which allowed their defeat!

Ezra 5:13-16 This is a review of Ezra 1:0.

Ezra 5:13 “King Cyrus issued a decree” Cyrus changed the policy of both the Assyrians and Babylonians by allowing all the exiled peoples to return to their homeland and rebuild their national temples. This was both for political and religious reasons. He assumed that the people groups of the ancient Near East would be grateful and pray for him and his successors. See Special Topic: The Rise of Cyrus at Ezra 1:1.

Ezra 5:14 “the temple of Babylon” Originally each city of Babylon had their own deity. As Babylon (the city) became the capital, its deity (Marduk), became the national deity.

“Sheshbazzar” This refers to the Judean leader of the first return in chapter 1, while Zerubbabel is not mentioned until chapter 2. Both are of the royal line of Judah.

“in its place” The site of the temple was crucial in establishing continuity between the Patriarchs and the new covenant community (cf. Genesis 22:2, Genesis 22:4, Genesis 22:14; 2 Samuel 24:15-25; 2 Chronicles 3:1; 2 Chronicles 7:1ff).

Ezra 5:15 This verse has a series of commands.

1. “take” (BDB 1103), Peal IMPERATIVE

2. “go” (BDB 1079), Peal IMPERATIVE

3. “deposit” (BDB 1102), Aphel IMPERATIVE

4. “let the house of God be rebuilt” (BDB 1084), Hithpael IMPERFECT used in JUSSIVE sense

Ezra 5:16 “Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem” It seems that this man cleared off the rubble and found the original foundations, but the temple itself was not rebuilt until the second return under Zerubbabel and Jeshua (cf. Haggai and Zechariah).

“and from then until now it has been under construction and it is not yet completed” This may be a comment by Tattenai or a summary statement provided by the Jews themselves. The temple was started soon after 538 B.C. (Cyrus' decree) by Sheshbazzar (cf. Ezra 5:16), but lapsed the project into inactivity until the time of Zerubabbel and Haggai/Zechariah about 519-520 B.C. (cf. Ezra 4:24-22). See Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 2, pp. 323-324).

Ezra 5:17 “Let a search be conducted” The VERB (BDB 1085) is a Hithpael IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How are the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, connected to Zerubbabel?

2. Explain the difference between the two questions in Ezra 5:3 (cf. Ezra 5:9).

3. Why is Ezra 5:12 so theologically significant?

4. Why is Sheshbazzar mentioned again in this chapter?

5. Explain the phrase “laid the foundation.”

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Ezra 5". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.