Ezra 5:1 Then the prophets, Haggai, the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews
Out of the mouth of two witnesses, the Lord commands the Jews to rebuild the temple. After a hiatus in construction of about a decade, the Lord calls Haggai and Zechariah to tell the people to get back to work on the Temple. Chronologically the books of Haggai and Zechariah should be inserted here, between chapters 4 and 5 of Ezra.
“Following the Babylonian captivity, Cyrus the Persian king authorized the Jews to build a temple… but the Jews met difficulties, including much opposition from the Samaritans, and discontinued building. But in the second year of Darius the king (520 B.C.), the Lord gave word to the Jews to finish the sacred structure. The whole prophecy of Haggai is in relation to this project.” (Sidney B. Sperry, “Ancient Temples and Their Functions,” Ensign, Jan. 1972, 70)
This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD's house should be built.
Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying,
Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?
… Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. (Haggai 1:2-4, 9)
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD. (Haggai 1:12)
“While Haggai's message is basically to inspire his people to build the temple, he does speak of the coming of the mortal Messiah as ‘the desire of all nations’ (Haggai 2:7). Such is not the case with Zechariah; his message extends to both comings of Jesus Christ and graphically predicts the Messiah's appearance to the Jews when all nations are gathered against the latter-day nation of Judah (see Zechariah 12:9-10; 13:6; 14:1-9).” (Monte S. Nyman, ed., Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1984], 7 - 8)
There were two prophets at that time among them, Haggai and Zechariah, who encouraged them, and bid them be of good cheer, and to suspect no discouragement from the Persians, for that God foretold this to them. So, in dependence on those prophets, they applied themselves earnestly to building [the temple] (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI 4:5)
Ezra 5:3 Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?
Tatnai is the Gentile governor of the kingdom of Persia on the west side of the Euphrates River. His question sounds challenging, but he has no animosity for the Jews. He is just doing his job. The Samaritans, on the other hand, don’t want the Jews completing the temple, nor do they want the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt.
Ezra 5:4 What are the names of the men that make this building?
The answer given to Tatnai is a sarcastic one, “We don’t need approval from Darius, from you, or from the nations that surround us. On our own, we have decided to rebuild the Temple. That guy over there is named Bilshan. That one over there is Rehum. The guy with the mortar is Elam. And the one with the scar on his face is Jorah. They all think we should be building God’s Temple. Isn’t that enough?”
They next gave a longer answer which constitutes the history of the temple and Cyrus decree authorizing them to build it, comprising verses 11-16.
Ezra 5:6 the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river… sent unto Darius the king
Tatnai refers to the temple as “the house of the great God… builded with great stones.” He is not opposed to the Jewish religion. He just wants to know the will of his superior, the king of Persia, so he has an answer to give the Samaritans who are bound to complain. The epistle comprises verses 7-17. Within that letter is the justification Tatnai received from the Jews, verses 11-16.
Ezra chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 all include correspondence between the Persian King and the Jews. From a historians perspective, the information is reliable—the record of an actual document from 520 BC.
Ezra 5:17 Now therefore… let there be search made in the king’s treasure house… whether it be so that a decree was made of Cyrus
Cyrus the Great was the Persian Ruler who conquered Babylon, the impenetrable city. He was venerated by his successors like Darius and a decree with his name on it would exonerate the Jewish construction project. Indeed, it would help fund it. The Lord’s hand can be seen moving the work along; paving the way for the blessings of the temple to be bestowed upon this small band of Jews as they try to worship God, follow their prophets, and build a Temple. Our goals should be the same. (Seriously, is anyone ever going to read this commentary on Ezra 5? Nobody reads Ezra, let alone commentary on it!)